By Bruce Weinstein & Mark Scarbrough
Every August, you’ll find us on Prince Edward Island. We go for the seafood. Well, that and swimming in the surprisingly warm waters of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, 11 hours by car from Boston, 14 from New York, and actually worlds away from anywhere.
Our first time, eight years ago, we pulled into our inn around 3:00 p.m. on a breezy summer day, unpacked quickly, slipped into our swim trunks, and walked across the road to the national park beach, miles of pink sand in both directions. We walked for hours, dug crabs, and saw only a handful of people, all up to about the same thing.
We came back to the inn for dinner and told the owner about our day. "There were half a dozen people on the beach!" we said.
He shook his head. "I know. You should really see it in the off season."
For lunch we head for one of two local places, both little clapboard restaurants in danger of falling down. At Richard’s restaurant, when we order the scallops, someone goes into the pound where the local fishermen store their catch in saltwater tanks, pulls out a basketful still in their shells, and cooks them. They are so fresh, the orange roe is still attached.
Our other favorite spot, farther east, is Rick’s. (No relation between the places, we hear.) As we sit at a picnic table outside, enjoying a bowl of steamed mussels, we can see hundreds of buoys in the bay, each marking a rope on which mussels grow. Practically every shallow bay is filled with these farms, a boon for the local economy. The mussel beds are seeded every spring in serried clusters, a hallmark of the island’s commitment to sustainability. Mussel farming started in earnest on the island just a little over 30 years ago. Today, PEI produces about 37 million pounds a year, nearly ten times the Maine harvest.
Back in the U.S., we always search out scallops and mussels at the fish counter, a little taste of PEI paradise anytime. Although it sometimes seems as if the islanders fry everything in sight, we like to keep things healthier at home, using global flavors, readily available in our markets, as inspiration.
Here are two of our favorite summer recipes. The only real danger? Overcooking. If you let mussels or scallops hang over the heat too long, they’ll turn tough. So you spend less time cooking, which leaves more time for doing nothing together on a lazy summer evening. That sounds like the whole reason we go to PEI in the first place.