The scallop isle
It's no secret that Tasmania is blessed with top-quality seafood. Wintertime on the island is scallop season – right now, the plump, juicy molluscs can be scooped up fresh and by the bucketful at fishmongers and local markets.
But while scoring scallops is easy, they have earned a reputation as a “difficult” seafood due to their whip-fast cooking time. “The worst thing you can do to a scallop is overcook it,” says Phil Gordon of Wild Thyme Kitchen, a Hobart-based stall known for barbecued seafood. He’s not trying to put you off. “You just want it warmed through,” he says. Grill each scallop 30 seconds either side, if that, and you’ll be all set.
Phil marinates his scallops (always with the roe, he says) in soy sauce, sake, ginger and garlic before searing quickly. They also star in a bouillabaisse-style fish soup that he sells at Hobart’s Farm Gate Market through winter – pick it up by the litre to reheat at home.
Michael Nowakowski, who runs the Doo-Lishus seafood van at Eaglehawk Neck, has a few simple rules for scallops, too. “We get all our scallops locally, and all we do is crumb them, fry them and sell them,” he says. One of Doo-Lishus’ most popular menu items is a fisherman’s basket of “at least 12” crumbed scallops. Michael goes through almost a tonne every season.
“We like the beautiful bite-sized ones. You don’t want to have to cut [a scallop] in four pieces before you eat it,” he says. “About the size of a 50c piece, with the roe extra. That’s nice.”
Michael also sells about 100 scallop pies a day during his September to May trade, although “mostly to tourists”, he says.
Given that the scallop pie – a pastry casing filled with scallops in a bechamel-based sauce – is a Tasmanian icon it’s not surprising that people travel from all over the world to try it.
Whether you love them or loathe them, the title of Tasmania’s best scallop pie is hotly contested. The winner is announced at Bridport’s annual Tassie Scallop Fiesta (Sunday 1 August this year), and Scot Postlethwaite of Oliver’s Bakery & Cafe in Ulverstone currently holds the title.
“Tassie used to be the Apple Isle, but now I believe it’s better known for its scallops,” Scot says. He opened his bakery nearly 40 years ago and has been making scallop pies for 20 years. “I blatantly refuse to use a scallop sourced from anywhere [other than Tasmania]”, he says. “It doesn’t matter what it costs.”
Scot does avoid one well-known Tasmanian ingredient, however. He makes his own spice blend for his curried scallop pies, instead of using the traditional (some say essential) Keen’s Curry Powder. “The trick is not to overpower the scallops,” he says. And you’ve got to cook ’em right, of course. “A scallop doesn’t deserve to go in a microwave; 180°C for 20 minutes is all a pie will ever ask for.”