Savor The Spoils Of The Sea Hunt With These Scalloping Tips – Orlando Sentinel

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Jun 27, 2021 at 5:00 AM

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The scallop shell makes a beautiful presentation for key lime scallop ceviche from Narcoossee’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. (Walt Disney World / Courtesy photo)

Fishing, at least in part, is about waiting and luck. But scalloping? It’s an active pursuit, one spent swimming and diving — treasure hunting, really — because the fresh, beautiful flavor of wild-harvested scallops is as sweet as the unforgettable undersea search and the satisfaction of catching your own dinner.

Scalloping season in Florida’s Citrus County generally runs July 1-Sept. 24 — though fishing reports may affect the dates. However, it’s run like clockwork for the last four years running, says boat captain Gary Bartell Jr. Locals and visitors alike ply the crystalline waters — generally between 4 and 8 feet deep — diving into the lush beds in hopes of filling their mesh bags with beautiful, shell-lacquered bivalves.

Nice haul! Scallopers show off their catch after a day out with River Adventure Tours. (River Adventure Tours / Courtesy photo)

Bartell operates River Adventure Tours out of the Ozello Keys Marina in Crystal River, one of the region’s top-rated outfitters. While most of his clients enjoy the spoils of the sea hunt, it’s the experience that makes it truly special.

“You can go get scallops at any grocery store for a fraction of the cost of a scalloping trip,” says Bartell, whose guests come from as near as Tampa Bay and Orlando and as far as the other side of the world. “But it’s the excitement of finding them that people love. Eating them is a bonus!”

A singular one. Wild scallops can be harvested only on trips such as these. “And they’re much sweeter than anything you’ll find in a store,” notes Bartell.

Some folks enjoy them right on the boat, says Kim Altman, owner/operator of Explorida Adventure Center in Crystal River. “They’ll eat them right off the shell, just like an oyster, with a little squirt of Tabasco or lime juice,” she says.

Scallopers enter the water in Homosassa Bay on Florida’s Gulf Coast. (Cassie Armstrong / Orlando Sentinel)

Altman’s all-inclusive tour company specializes in larger groups — multi-family outings or combined groups of friends.

“We’re the only boat in the area that can carry more than six passengers to the scallop grounds at one time,” she explains.

Explorida’s services also include shucking — most operators don’t. But fear not, as the season brings with it many skilled shuckers, including fishermen bridging seasons and even local girls’ softball teams, looking to make extra money helping visitors shuck and clean their catch.

Save the shells, though, because when it comes time to prepare the scallops, you may want to use them.

A snorkeler dives to pluck a scallop from the seagrass in Homosassa Bay on Florida’s Gulf Coast (Cassie Armstrong / Orlando Sentinel)

If on-the-boat slurping is a little too raw for your flavor, Central Florida scallops can be prepared in a multitude of delicious ways — one of them being the easy, essentially no-cook delicacy of ceviche.

Ceviche isn’t precisely raw but requires no heat — using acid from fresh citrus to flavor, tenderize and essentially “cook” the meat. Mixed with other items and seasonings (chili peppers, onions, coriander, mango — the list is long and infinitely varied), this South American favorite makes for a gorgeous appetizer and works beautifully with smaller bay scallops like these.

“A little lime juice, garlic, olive oil … ” Noah Estabrook trails off, dreaming on a dish. As the lead chef for Narcoossee’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, he knows his way around a scallop shell. In fact, for the Key Lime Ceviche with Chipotle Aioli recipe he’s shared, he recommends employing the shell as a serving dish.

Citrus-jalapeno scallop ceviche is prepared by boat captain Gary Bartell Jr. as part of a VIP experience with River Adventure Tours. (Courtesy photo)

“It’s a great trick,” he notes. “Wash the shells and boil them to bring out their color, then put the ceviche in them for a beautiful presentation. Ceviche is a perfect way to serve scallops that are just-off-the-boat fresh. Easy, too.”

Disney chefs are known for the gorgeous sear on those large marshmallowy sea scallops and it’s a lot of work, says Estabrook. “That Disney sear and caramelization is something we’re always trying to perfect.”

They do a good job — you’ll see it time and again all over Walt Disney World — even out of the small outdoor kitchens that serve the Epcot festivals. Smaller scallops like those harvested in Crystal River can be seared, as well, but lend themselves better to easier preps that are just as delicious.

Though most clients dine on their catch, says boat captain Gary Martell Jr., the real appeal of scalloping is the adventure. “Eating them is a bonus!” (Cassie Armstrong / Orlando Sentinel)

“You could also go kebab-style,” he suggests, ”with vegetables and a lemon-herb marinade.”

With marinade-brushed veggies, such as tomatoes, red onion, peppers and mushrooms, on one skewer (they will take longer to cook) and scallops on another, each can be presented atop rice or couscous or pulled from the skewers to make things less handsy when you eat.

“Marinated scallops should go on a very hot grill,” Estabrook advises. “Do less than a minute on each side for a medium-cooked scallop with nice grill marks and caramelization.”

Broiling, he says, is a small step up but not difficult for novice cooks, either.

“Take garlic and butter and brush them down in a small casserole dish — broiler set to high — and let them cook perhaps two minutes before you see them gain color on the top. Finish them with fresh lemon juice and fresh parsley — and that’s a great dish!”

Moisture, says Estabrook, is your enemy when cooking scallops.

A snorkeler holds up a scallop she found in Homosassa Bay on Florida’s Gulf Coast. (Cassie Armstrong / Orlando Sentinel)

“You want to make sure they’re really dry — pat them down with a lint-free napkin,” Estabrook says. “Moisture, for example if you see foaming, that water evaporation will hinder the caramelization.”

The little guys, says Estabrook, do beautifully with pasta, which is where you might toss the ones from under the broilers. Supermarkets — even smaller, local ones — often have a fresh pasta offering or two, which will make the dish nicer.

“But as a local, I enjoy eating them, as well.”

Lowman enjoys the shell presentation, too, though he does his cooked.

“Using the shell like a little bowl, I’ll throw in three scallops with some butter, garlic and finely chopped bacon and put it right on the grill for a few minutes. The scallops soak up all those flavors — plus some nice salty ones from the shell. It’s so good!”

Citrus County, also known as the Nature Coast, has provided locals and tourists alike with some of the most fertile grass beds for recreational scallop harvest every year. (Red Huber, Orlando Sentinel)

If you’re ready to rest …

You might consider bringing your catch to one of many area restaurants to let them do the cooking for you.

“They’re outstanding,” says Bartell. “They put a Cajun twist on the scallops — and though there are many places here who will cook your scallops well, this is the only truly unique venue for them in Citrus County. They’re very popular.”

And if for some reason, scallops aren’t your bag — even if you filled one up — “they’ve also got the best, freshest seafood you can get anywhere.” For waterfront dining, she recommends Crackers on the Bay — another local joint that’s happy to prep your scalloping haul.

Scallops, says Disney’s Estabrook, are one of Narcoossee’s most popular proteins.

“Their sweetness and versatility are just wonderful,” he says.

Add to that Florida-freshness, and you’ve got a singular experience that can be had only while exploring the Sunshine State.

The summer scallop season in Florida is uniquely about the Sunshine State. (Red Huber / Orlando Sentinel)

Key Lime Scallop Ceviche with Chipotle Aïloi

Narcoossee’s, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (serves 4-6)

1 cup peeled and diced European cucumber 1 cup diced red onion 1/2 cup diced tomato 1/2 poblano pepper, seeded and diced 1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced 1/4 cup rice vinegar Zest of 5 key limes 1/2 cup key lime juice 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more, to taste 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste 1 pound small bay scallops Combine diced European cucumber, red onion, tomato, poblano pepper, and jalapeño in large glass bowl. Whisk vinegar, key lime zest and juice, Worcestershire sauce, cilantro, salt, and pepper in small bowl. Add additional salt and pepper, to taste. Pour over vegetables and stir to combine. Gently fold in scallops and refrigerate for 1 hour, up to 3 hours. 1/2 cup southern-style mayonnaise 1 teaspoon chipotle pepper in adobo sauce 1 tablespoon key lime juice Salt, to taste Combine mayonnaise, chipotle pepper and key lime juice in blender or small food processor. Purée until smooth. Season with salt, to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Coarse sea salt 6 fresh cilantro leaves Evenly divide ceviche among serving dishes or sanitized large scallop shells. Season with coarse sea salt. Top each serving with a generous tablespoon of chipotle aïoli. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Cook’s note: This recipe may contain raw or undercooked scallops which increase your risk of foodborne illness. If preferred, you can gently fold in cooked, cooled scallops and refrigerate until chilled.