Here's the thing: We get a lot of seafood around here. But we don't really get black bass. I mean, I'm sure I could figure out a way to get it. But why would I? There's fish that they pull out of the water around here. Why would I get something shipped from somewhere else. I picked black grouper. I looked at the description of black bass, and I was comfortable making that reach. Plus, black bass and black grouper are the same color, right? And sort of surprisingly, that color is white. At least with regards to the meat.
Now let's talk about the Taylor Bay scallops.
When I started this, I looked into what Taylor Bay scallops were. Taylor Bay is off the coast of New England. Again, I suspected I could get them, but we have a scallop season right here in Florida. Why not just get them here.
In fact, why not actually go get them here?
Scallop season in Florida is a summer thing, so I decided I'd make this dish when I could go get the scallops myself. It's a weekend warrior kind of thing. You don't have to be a trained diver to go get them, making me totally qualified.
So as the season was waning (I wanted to wait until the heat was down as much as possible), I booked a trip on a charter and headed out with Capt. Leo Riddle out of Homosassa Springs. That required waking up at 5:30 in the morning so I could drive 2 hours north before I'm normally awake, but what the heck.
So when I got there, I was anticipating getting a quick lesson on what it was I would need to do. But Capt. Leo just set out with me, Alan and our two new friends from Palm Beach, Crystal and Giorgio. Maybe when we got there, we'd be taught what we needed to do.
As we we're heading down the Homosassa River toward the Gulf, we spotted some dolphins. Six, we counted. More importantly, the dolphins spotted us and decided to escort us out to the bay. Here's what that looks like (Before pressing play, turn down the volume. You've been warned):
So we get to a spot in the gulf where we can still see land, but just barely. Now we'll get the lesson.
"All right, let's try it here," Capt. Leo said.
And thus ended the lesson.
I was given a mask and snorkel and asked if I wanted to use dive fins.
"Um, dunno. Do I?"
"Yes, you do," said Giorgio, who was in the water by now, wearing his own dive fins.
So I put them on and jumped in. Despite the fact that we were far enough away from land to barely be able to see it, the water was only 6-7 feet deep. I can't tell you how many times I've heard that, but I never believed it. It's true. I could almost stand in most of the water we were in.
Then I started getting acclimated and looking around. I saw nothing but grass.
"What am I looking for," I asked Capt. Leo, thinking there were secret signs I should watch for.
"Scallops," he said.
There is something to be said for not overcomplicating the issue.
I started floating around in the salty water -- it's really salty -- and getting used to breathing through the snorkel. I did this for 10 minutes or so, but saw nothing. Giorgio had found some at this point, but I had nothing.
But, I figured, hey, we saw the dolphins, I'm floating in the Gulf of Mexico, it's a nice day … I hope to get something, but if I don't, it was still a win.
I was rationalizing.
So I kept floating around thinking of reasons it wouldn't be a total disaster if I got nothing when it happened. I totally saw a scallop. All I had to do was go get it. So by now there was water in my mask. I surfaced to clear it, put it back on, went under and … Wait! Where did my scallop go?
Whether I drifted in the current or got turned around while surfacing or what, I have no idea, but there was no scallop anywhere. So I started floating again, this time going in circles (I think), until I finally saw it. I prepared to go down to get it, got to the point where my head was going deeper, reached out to grab it … and then I floated back to the top.
I re-spotted it, and tried again. No luck. I'm way too buoyant, I thought. There are probably applications in which that would be a great thing, but not this one. So I kicked and flailed and struggled and reached. Finally I got down and grabbed my first scallop.
I tried to be nonchalant, act like I'd been there before. I got it in the bag and started floating again, knowing if I got nothing else, I had a story now.
Then I found another one. It was the same story as the first, but eventually I got it. Then Capt. Leo decided we should try another spot, so I headed back to the boat. About halfway there, I realized something.
My bag was gone. With my scallops.
I looked around a little, completely defeated, knowing that in the unlikely event that I saw the bag, I'd probably never get it. So I looked, and cursed, and swam. Giorgio was behind me. "Did you lose your bag? I see one down there."
We went a little further up the coast. While we were on the boat, I mentioned how much trouble I had descending.
"Breathe out before you dive," Giorgio said. "I told you that before."
He had. I thought he meant it as if to say "relax." Turns out, he meant it as if to say "breathe out before you dive."
Now it all made sense.
We got to the new location, I jumped in the water, and with this new information, found that I could get down pretty well. It was still inelegant, I'm sure, but I could do it.
And I saw a scallop. I went and got it. Came up, got it in the bag. Went back down, saw another. Pretty soon I had a decent number. I felt a little sick from swallowing salt water, and was exhausted, so I got back on the boat. I counted my haul and had 21. Not bad. I really only needed 10 for the dish. I figured I'd go back in the water when I felt ready. But that never happened. I was zonked.
We got back to the dock, got them cleaned, because otherwise they look like this ...
And you want them to look like this ...
(The secret is a shop vac. Seriously.)
The other thing that I didn't do according to the recipe is I didn't use Hubbard squash. I bought seeds to grow them, but squash season doesn't coincide with scallop season here, so I got a butternut.
Sear the fish, steam the scallops, sauté the squash, and assemble a lemon brodetto, which is a combination of capon stock and preserved lemons that I made previously. That's the dish.
Of course, the dish is Black Grouper with Homosassa Bay Scallops. In Lemon Brodetto.
Up next: riffing on lobster