Shellfish in the Peconic Estuary

Ann Haskell holding a scallop

by Roz Cummins

On Friday morning I was fortunate to have the chance to go out on the Peconic River with Ann Haskell, Blue Ocean Institute’s marine educator, as she led a trip for college students who are studying marine ecology. (Blue Ocean Institute partners with Atlantis Marine World, in Riverhead, NY, to offer educational tours of the Peconic Estuary on the aquarium’s Explorer tour boat.)

During the boat trip, the students seeded the bottom of Flanders Bay (the westernmost part of the Peconic Estuary) with young oysters and scallops. These shellfish are filter feeders and actually clean the water while they feed.

seed oysters ready to be scattered in the Peconic River

Oysters are rated green in our seafood guide, and scallops are rated green or yellow, depending on their source.

scallops ready to be scattered in the Peconic Estuary

Here’s my recipe for a stew made from these green-rated shellfish. Spending the morning on the river with Ann and the students and watching them take steps to ensure the continuing presence of oysters and scallops in the river prompted me to make a pot of this when I got home.

Roz Cummins’ Wallet Guide Shellfish Stew

Serves 8

The name of this recipe refers to the Blue Ocean Institute wallet guide, which can help you make informed choices about the seafood you eat.

If you don’t want to put pepperoni in the stew, use crushed fennel seeds instead. Some mussels have “beards” which are little bits of tissue that protrude from the shell and which look sort of like threads made of steel wool. A good tug will pull them out of the mussel. Pay attention to see if the mussels and clams are shut tight before you rinse them. If they are not shut tight — or don’t shut tight when you touch them — toss ’em!


1 cup olive oil

1 cup yellow onion, finely chopped

2 shallots, finely chopped

2 28 ounce cans crushed or whole tomatoes (“fire roasted”, ideally)

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1 cup sliced fennel stalks (slice the stalks like celery, about ½ to ¾ inch slices)

1 cup chopped pepperoni or 1 tsp crushed fennel seed

1 8 ounce bottle clam juice

1 32 ounce carton fish stock or home-made fish stock

16 clams, rinsed

2 lbs bag of mussels, rinsed and beards removed

6 scallops

1/2 to 3/4 cup pinot grigio

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano or 1/4 teaspoon dried

1/4 cup basil leaves, sliced into ribbons

1/2 cup chopped flat leaf (Italian) parsley

8 pieces of sturdy whole grain or French bread, toasted


1.) Pour the olive oil into a large stockpot. Heat it over medium-high heat.

2.) Add the chopped onion and shallots and sauté until the onions and shallots are completely cooked through and translucent. They do not need to brown.

3.) Add the tomatoes, garlic and fennel. Cook for five minutes.

4.) Add the pepperoni or fennel seed, clam juice and fish stock. Cook ten minutes.

5.) Add the clams, mussels, and scallops. Cook until the clams and mussels open.

6.) Add the pinot grigio. (Start by adding ½ cup and then taste. Add more if you like.)

7.) Add salt and pepper to taste.

8.) Add the oregano, basil, and parsley just a minute or two before serving and stir them into the stew.

9.) Put a slice of bread at the bottom of each bowl. Pour stew on top of the bread. Serve.

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