"It's a lot like hunting for Easter eggs with a snorkel and a bag for a basket," says Patti Blaylock, chef and owner of Sunset Coastal Grill
in Port St. Joe, Fla., about scalloping in St. Joseph Bay
in Gulf County
It is just one of the many popular water activities for both locals and visitors in the area. From around July through September, it's common to see people scattered throughout the bay looking for the small and tasty mollusk.
With this year's season ending on September 24, there is still enough time to visit Gulf County and go scalloping.
Suitable for nearly all ages, it can be done solo or with friends or family. Before getting out into the water, you need to have a dive flag and valid Florida saltwater fishing license
. Don't forget to familiarize yourself with the limits and other regulations
For first timers and those who want to improve their experience, Blaylock offers some pointers:
- Go in the morning: "While I've gone out at all different times, it's normally calmer in the morning. You want a sunny day, with little to no wind. With those conditions, it's easier to find the scallops."
- Break it up: She recommends not doing it all in one day. She believes it is more efficient to divvy up the scallopingtime over two- or three days.
- Venture out further: Don't limit yourself to searching in the shallow water where others have already searched. Blaylock recommends exploring 5- to 5 and a half feet of water, says Blaylock. "Scallops move and eventually get into cooler, deeper waters," she says. "The deeper and cooler they are, the happier they are." Easiest way to get out there is with a kayak (either rent one or bring your own), anchor down, put the dive flag up and begin the hunt.
- Ask for help: Arrange your scalloping excursion with a guide, which Blaylock strongly recommends for first-timers. "Go out with someone who knows what they are doing to avoid frustration."
- Have fun: Even if you don't find many scallops, you still come across some amazing finds. "You can spot everything from little starfish to sponges and more."
Preparing Your Find
"I shuck mine right when I get them, and eat them raw on the boat," says Blaylock.
You did it! You got the scallops, so now what are you going to do with them. And what is this about shucking?
"Cleaning scallops is the least amount of fun. It takes a long time," she warns. "Finding them is fun, eating them is fun, but cleaning them is not so fun."
Blaylock says not to worry though because you can always ask locals for guidance with cleaning.
Once they are ready, she recommends storing them in a quart freezer bags.
"Be sure to get out as much air as possible, and lay the bags with the scallops flat. The scallops freeze better this way and will keep for several months."
If you don't have a freezer, lay the bags flat in your cooler and keep the cooler iced.
As for preparing, Blaylock says the best way to cook them is "barely done."
"Less is better. If you cook them too long, them become marbleized."
Need some recipes? Blaylock provides two of her favorites:
(Cold) Scallop Soup
2 c. Bay scallops – foot removed
½ c. fresh lemon juice
½ c. water
1 ea. green bell pepper, diced
1 ea. small yellow onion, diced
½ c. salsa
1/1/2 c. ketchup
Mix scallops, lemon juice, water, bell pepper and onion in a non-reactive (glass) container and refrigerate overnight. Add salsa and ketchup and refrigerate for a couple more hours.
Serve cold with toasted bread and garnished with avocado or green onions. This is a very refreshing summer soup.
1 lb. Bay scallops – foot removed
½ c. butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
¼ - ½ c. parmesan cheese, shredded
Divide scallops into 4 separate au gratin dishes. Melt butter in sauté pan, add garlic. Spoon butter mixture over scallops, top with fresh basil and parmesan cheese. Place under broiler for 1-2 minutes being careful not to burn. Blaylock points out that she usually sets on second shelf away from broiler and add a minute. "Do not cook too long or the scallops get tough."
Save the Date: The 18th annual Florida Scallop & Music Festival in Port St. Joe is slated for September 12-13.
photos courtesy of Gulf County Tourism