EATING FOR BRITAIN: A LOAD OF OLD SCALLOPS IN RYE
Well, not old at all. In fact, so fresh that they could not have been more so if they were a prince, lousy at rap and lived in Bel Air. These were scallops landed less than twelve hours earlier and opened in front of us by Russell Drew of Market Fisheries in Rye.
I had joined my chum and food writer, Neil Davey at The Rye Scallop Festival which began last weekend and runs until Saturday the 28th and Russell was showing us just how easy it is to plop the plump, still pulsating specimens from their shells when you have had thirty years practice.
Scallop fishing in these here parts is a relatively new business, beginning only in the early 1970’s when a local cod fisherman turned his attention to trying to harvest oysters, created a small harrowing net and instead ended up with a net full of scallops.
A lucky accident, perhaps, but because of the strict season, which runs from November to May and the laws allowing only the catch of a certain size, this has become a profitable and sustainable enterprise.
Depressingly both Russell and Tony Isted at Rye bay fisheries explained that over ninety percent of their catch goes live, in the shell across from The Cinque Ports to France, where housewives not afraid of getting their hands dirty snap them up without hesitation. Here in Britain, however, despite the fact that they seem to appear on just about every cookery programme possible, they are still considered expensive, exotic and difficult to prepare.
A huge shame, because the examples that Russell opened for us screamed out, er not literally although they were still very much alive, to be cooked gently in a little bacon fat or to be sliced thinly for sushi. Best of all, each scallop sported a glistening bag of roe in oranges of different shades, longing to be sliced off and fried in butter and served on toast or whizzed up with olive oil to make taramasalata.
By now it was past midday and, despite a quick bacon sandwich for breakfast, we could not bring ourselves to leave Rye without a visit to a local pub. Lorna Hall, an extraordinary local who organises the festival free, gratis and for nowt, had been kind enough to show us around and pointed us in the direction of The Ypres Castle Arms, in the oldest section of the small town.
There, like many other restaurants, the chef had created a menu based around scallops and Neil and I sat in front of the log fire, pint of Harvey’s in hand and ordered thirteen scallops to be served in various different styles. They brought them out on a platter for us to share and, taking into account my years of training under HP, I placed myself in charge of divvying them up fairly.
Three came cooked in lime and chilli, three more in a little tarragon and butter and more still wrapped in parma ham However, best of all, four came sitting on top of slices of local black pudding, a perfect combination and we both flopped back in our seats to enjoy the views across the Romney Marshes as we let them digest happily in our ample stomachs.
If we had been across La Manche, such treasures as a plate of achingly fresh local produce would not only have a festival to promote them, but songs written about them. Here in the UK, it is only thanks to people like Lorna, Tony and Russell that we even get to hear about them, a crying shame.
If you have chance this Saturday, Rye is a little over an hour from London on the train and there will lots of opportunities to eat some of the best scallops you will have ever tasted.
So, what are you waiting for?