Shellfish Finds

by the Editors

Shellfish Finds

Elizabeth Cecil

Leave your nets at home, and let the professionals handle the dirty work. For the daily catch, check out: Edgartown Meat & Fish and Edgartown Seafood in Edgartown; Menemsha Fish Market and Larsen’s Fish Market in Chilmark; and The Net Result and John’s Fish Market in Tisbury.

Martha’s Vineyard is one of the last places in the country that sustains a vigorous commercial bay scallop fishery. As James Beard aptly observed, “The choicest scallops to be had are the small bay scallops, about 1/2-inch thick and a pinkish white”—lucky for us. Although only harvested during the winter season, these scallops are known for tasting just a bit sweeter and brinier than sea scallops.

Soft-shelled clams, better known as steamers, from cold salty New England waters are often thought to taste better than their Chesapeake Bay counterparts. (We’re not at all biased on this count.) While they’re most often spotted in clam rolls or sold hot and fried, they’re just as good steamed and dipped in broth and butter.

During the nineteenth century in New England, oyster vendors used to line the streets, and oyster parties were all the rage among the aristocracy. A phenomenon dubbed merroir, oysters are believed to best reflect the unique flavors and qualities that their growing region imparts on them. (Oysters pictured here: Katama Bay & Wild West Tisbury.)

Most hard shell clams are actually the same species, but are differentiated on the basis of age, and subsequently, size. Littleneck, cherrystone and chowder clams, from smallest to largest, tend to be the three most common varieties of hard shells. Eaten raw, steamed or used in chowder, clams have been the New England shellfish of choice since the first settlers arrived and Native Americans revealed the secrets of the clambake. The shells can be saved for nautical soap dishes or used to make wampum, a Native American style of bead jewelry.

Originally considered the ‘poor man’s oyster,’ mussels have managed to establish a fine-dining reputation for themselves. The French, who have always preferred mussels to clams, have showcased the many uses for this versatile mollusk and they’re now a staple on seafood menus throughout New England (and beyond!), stoically holding down the fort behind lobsters, scallops, clams and oysters.

When European settlers first arrived in the New World, lobsters washed up on shore by the dozen. Initially, people took their abundance as a mark of their inferiority, and for years they were served to prisoners and servants. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that lobsters became synonymous with haute cuisine; their popularity finally peaked with the establishment of lobster palaces (fine-dining establishments frequented by high society and characterized by excessive consumption) at the turn of the century.