Taste the difference that tide-to-table dayboat scallops makes
There is grass fed filet mignon and then there is Kobe beef. There is whiskey and then there is Glenmorangie Signet. Same goes for scallops…there are commercially harvested versions that you find in supermarkets…and then there are tide-to-table dayboat scallops from Downeast Dayboat proudly based in Bath, Maine.
Have you ever ordered scallops in a restaurant or from your local fishmonger and were less than impressed with the quality, taste and texture leaving you to wonder…what is a scallop actually supposed to taste like? If your experience left you with this conundrum then more-than-likely you were not dining on a dayboat scallop.
The majority of US commercially harvested scallops (close to 95%) are harvested on “trip boats” that can be on the water for up to a week or more. Trip boats can fish in any open area at any time of the year and can catch as many pounds as their boats are able to hold. On longer trips it is not uncommon for fishermen to bring in tens-of-thousands of pounds. To preserve the freshness of the scallops they are placed in cheesecloth bags and buried in ice which eventually melts and seeps into the scallops thus diluting their flavor and altering their texture. It is easy to understand how the prolonged amount of time spent out to sea, the enormous yields and the increased moisture content can easily call into question the notion of “fresh off the boat”.
By contrast dayboat scallops from Downeast Dayboat in Bath, Maine are harvested and shipped within 24 to 48 hours. In addition to the very short turnaround times dayboat scallops never come in contact with ice or fresh water as all harvesting is done in the winter months. Instead of being packed on ice the scallops are shucked onboard and kept cold in plastic buckets on the deck of the boat. This method of keeping the scallops cold ensures that their flavor and texture remain exactly as they should…plump, succulent and sweet, without being waterlogged and tasteless.
Maine scallop fishermen operate under strict guidelines that require them to stay within three miles of shore while allowing a catch of no more than 135 pounds a day. As a result their trips out-and-back are counted in hours not weeks. By harvesting close to shore fishermen can work in a variety of bays with names like Cobscook, Cutler Coast and Bar Harbor.
The ability to harvest scallops from different areas along the coast results in them having distinct “merrior”…not unlike wines that possess different characteristics based on soil and climate or free range livestock that are fed highly nutritious diets. The temperature of the water, the currents and runoff from the land all contribute to the type of plankton, trace minerals and elements of the water column. This in turn creates the unique flavor profile of an oyster, clam, mussel or lobster and of course, scallops. With such diversity in flavor profiles it’s no wonder that many of of Downeast Dayboat customers actually specify which area, and fisherman, they would like their scallops to come from.
Downeast Dayboat is owned and operated by Togue Brawn, a one woman force of nature with the energy of a Sunday morning preacher. Except Togue’s homily is not one of religious discourse yet one on the health benefits of consuming dayboat scallops from Maine. As such, she has been on a twelve year mission to win the hearts, minds and stomachs of scallop loving Americans. Known as the “Scallop Queen” Togue is tireless in her mission to educate consumers on the advantages of buying her scallops over the waterlogged and chemically altered options that are carried in stores.
As the daughter of a commercial fisherman Togue has had her boots wet in Maine’s commercial fishing and seafood industry for over 30 years. She has served as a fisheries manager for Maine’s Department of Marine Resources, worked closely with resident fishermen and dined with some of Maine’s most notable chefs whose restaurants have served her dayboat scallops for years. No stranger to hitting-the-road Togue will pack up her scallop-mobile and travel anywhere at any time of year to preach the gospel of Maine scallops. From farmers markets to various culinary events she is laser focused on educating the yet-to-be-converted masses to the benefits of Maine scallops.
Our first experience with dayboat scallops came after I recently read an article on Downeast Dayboat and Togue. Like many people, I was not as informed as I have come to be on the myriad factors that contribute to the quality of scallops. While living in Southern California my go to fishmonger was a second generation (60 years in business) Japanese owned market call Fish King. To their great credit they sourced very high quality seafood from around the world, most of which was sold to restaurants throughout Southern and Northern California. Therefore I always assumed that the quality of their scallops was on a par with the rest of their seafood. Little did I know.
Our initial order of Downeast Dayboat scallops was packaged in two cryo sacs of one pound per bag. The bags were sandwiched between two cold packs and the scallops arrived cold but not frozen. Like kids in a candy store we could barely contain our excitement as I sliced open one of the bags, and without even rinsing them, popped one in my mouth. The brininess mixed with notes of sweetness was truly amazing. From the two pounds we were able to enjoy four separate meals although we could have polished them off in one seating! We thought better of that and enjoyed them as straight up sashimi with a small ramekin of ponzu sauce for lunch. The following evening we lightly sauteed another batch and placed them over a bed of capellini pasta with a lemon butter sauce. And so it went for another two meals over the course of three days. Those four meals were all it took to convert us to consume only dayboat scallops.
Many complimentary, and well deserved, words have been written about Downeast Dayboat over the years…from newspapers and glossy food magazines to customers praising the quality of Togue’s products. After trying what a real scallop should taste like I can report that we are now among the growing number of people that have been converted and we could not be more satisfied with the product and the service that Downeast Dayboat provides.
With the growing demand for farm-to-table and sea-to-table products, purchasing dayboat scallops from Downeast Dayboat makes sense as another bonafide way to support sustainable fishing practices.
A heartfelt thanks to Togue, her staff and family along with all the fishermen that supply her, and us, with such a delicious and healthy product.