If you’ve ever wondered why hand-dived scallops are so special, check out this glorious Visit Scotland video about David and Ben Oakes’ twice-dived beauties from the Isle of Skye.
Our pick of Billingsgate this week highlights some wonderful hand-dived scallops from Scotland. If you’ve never tried them – or even seen them – we urge you to track some down. Or better yet, take a trip up to Scotland yourself and buy some at source, not least to see the truly glorious places that they come from – it makes them taste even better.
We’ve written about Guy Grieve on the Isle of Mull a couple of times, but we’ve never yet mentioned David and his son Ben Oakes, who are scallop ranchers on the Isle of Skye. David has spent 30 years or so perfecting his understanding of scallops, and now Ben has followed him into the trade.
David has had what’s called a several order for an area of Loch Sligachan for many years. It’s so named because it severs the public’s right to fish – at least for scallops. “They can fish other species but not scallops – they belong to us,” says David. “To get a several order you have to prove that it’s of benefit environmentally to the fishery in general. Our scallops provide something like 10 million spat each, whereas scallops from deep water might only provide 100,000 spat each. Much of that goes 10 miles north and 10 miles south, so it is regenerating the public fishery.”
Sconser scallops are dived twice – that’s the key to ranching. They’re taken from the deeper water when they are three or four years old and then moved into the shallow protected water where the plankton is thicker, the light is brighter and the water temperature in summer is higher, so they grow faster. “It’s where the scallops want to be,” says David. “They spend all their lives trying to get into these shallower waters. It’s in these areas where the meat gets denser, firmer and the flavor is really special.”
The scallops are dived a second time for harvesting, when they have grown to the right size. And that size is seriously impressive. David showed us the curve of one of his scallop shells, which is noticeably fatter than normal – rather like one of those cars with a bulging bonnet because its engine is so big.
“As far as we’re aware, we’re the only ones in the world who use this method of fishing, and the advantages for the environment are just phenomenal,” says Ben, in a terrific video published by Visit Scotland earlier this year (above). He also describes how special his job is. “Watching my dad going to sea, diving – I’ve always been fascinated by it. It’s a whole other world: everything is different – life is just everywhere. Turn a rock over and there’s life underneath it – little shrimp and fish. I was swimming through a big gorge and an octopus swam under my arm, squirted ink in my face and swam away.”
Their Loch Sligachan fishery is pretty special too, as you can see in this utterly transporting video. The Oakes family live right next to it, just by the road. You can call ahead and order some scallops for yourself: £20 for 12 whopping “live in the shell” scallops, probably harvested that day. What are you waiting for?