The Local Food Report: roe scallops

Have you ever shucked a live sea scallop? Here's how it's done:

The coral colored stuff you see attached to the muscle is the roe. Usually, it's taken off during shucking—either out at sea, before the boats even come in, or at a shucker-packer facility on shore. Occasionally, though, day boats land their scallops live. Markets sell them that way to consumers, and once you get the hang of it, you can open them yourself at home.

Geoffrey Day, the guy up there in the video, is a big fan of eating sea scallops with the roe on. He got into it in the eighties, when he met a few guys in Wellfleet who were selling scallops this way to chefs in New York. He grew up on the Cape and had studied ecology, and he was worried about the fisheries. He wanted people to get more into what he calls "esoteric" seafood, seafood we don't normally eat and that isn't fished out. Scallops with roe fit the bill.

For starters, they're delicious. The roe tastes very similar to the scallop muscle, only a little more briny. It has a different texture—the Portuguese call them livers, and that's a good description. On the females it's coral colored, and on the males it's off white. On both it's nearly as large or sometimes even larger than the scallop muscle itself, which means if more people ate scallops this way, we'd double our yield. Its presence also guarantees the scallop is fresh, because the roe deteriorates much more quickly than the meat. That's part of why you don't often see scallops with the roe attached.

The other reason is that Americans don't really have a taste for it, or don't know about it. In Europe, scallop roe is a delicacy. It's also packed with omega-3s—good for everyone, and especially important for mamas and babies. Geoffrey says it can carry red tide, but that the waters around here are tested regularly, so there's no need to worry.

He cooked me a batch the other day at his house. I have to say I wasn't entire sold based on appearance—the texture looked a little weird, plus he had just told me that what we were about to eat was the scallops' gonads—but they were absolutely delicious. Alex and I ate them again a few nights later, pan-seared in butter and olive oil and served over a bed of wilted garlic and Swiss chard from our garden.

What do you think? Would you try them?

Now's the time of year if you're feeling adventurous. Sea scallops spawn at the end of the summer, so spring and early summer are when the roes get big. You don't always see live sea scallops at markets, but that said, most fishmongers around here can get them if you ask.  

If you end up getting into scallops with roe, be sure to tell Geoffrey. He's into all things roe scallop, including new eaters and sharing recipes. Which reminds me—if you're looking for cooking ideas, check out this cookbook by Elaine and Karin Tammi. It's all about scallops—both with roe, and without.


Dianne L said...

Geoffrey served scallops with their roe at a CLASH (Cape Land and Sea Harvest) session for chefs a few years back and they were a big hit. Haven't seen them on any menus yet though.

Elspeth said...

He said they served them during the summer of 07 at the Brewster Fish House. Not sure why they dropped off...the ones I tasted were delicious!

Geof Day said...

Thanks Elspeth & hi Dianne!

I hear about roe-on being served at Wellfleet's SOL fairly regularly, with some rather adventurous approaches including a sashimi preparation and others.

2007 we had a very successful testing of roe-on scallops at Brewster Fish House, Naked Oyster, Bleu, Back Eddy (Westport) and Cambridge's East Coast Grill.

Other than Sol, I haven't heard of anyone else serving roe-on.

2007 was a very special time as I had personally developed and delivered virtually every scallop as a market test.

As I ultimately am not in the fish business, the vendor I passed it on to failed to connect the dots.

As I hear the economy is picking up a bit, maybe we'll give it another go.

Fiona said...

the real reason Americans don't eat scallop roe could be that according to US Seafood Health Authorities the roe can contain toxins. http://seafoodhealthfacts.org/seafood_safety/practitioners/toxins.php

Elspeth said...

Hi Fiona,

Thanks for pointing that out. I'm not sure this is the "real" reason, however, as the article also highlights the potential risks of eating other shellfish and their viscera, like clams and oysters, and Americans happily eat them cooked and raw all the time. There are risks associated with almost every food (even produce). This is interesting, though, and certainly something to keep in mind. Thank you for sharing!

All the best,

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