If you love scallops, there’s only one place to be in February, and that’s Rye, a half-hour drive from the family holiday rental Barnfield House Kent. This pretty East Sussex harbour town is host to the annual Rye Bay Scallop Week and this year’s festival, the 18th, starts Saturday 22nd February and runs until 1st March.
Rye – steeped in history
Perched atop a sandstone promontory by the confluence of three rivers, the picturesque town of Rye in is a delight to visit at any time of the year. You can spend a pleasant day wandering around its warren of steep cobbled streets and secret passages lined with half-timbered medieval cottages and fine Georgian houses. As you take in the view across Romney Marsh, it’s a stretch to think that the town was once almost entirely encircled by the sea. Rye was part of the confederation of Cinque Ports originally formed by Edward the Confessor in the 11th Century to furnish ships and men for the defence of the realm. In medieval times it was a strategic trading port of note, but by the 16th Century the sea had receded, and silting had extended the marshes. Today Rye lies a full two miles inland, its port connected to the sea by the rivers Rother, Brede and Tillingham.
Fit for a king
Despite its distance from the sea, Rye’s fishing fleet continued to thrive. Such was its fame that its catch of herring, mackerel, cod, plaice and sole used to be reserved for the King’s table. In 1628 King Charles I himself proclaimed Rye to be “the cheapest sea-towne for provision of fish for our house”. Its reputation as a fishing hub has continued into the 21st Century, though today its fishing fleet moors almost two miles from the sea.
Rye Bay Scallop Week
Scallops in particular love the shallow, sheltered waters of Rye Bay, and right now they are at their finest…among the best in England! Hence the timing of the Rye Bay Scallop Festival, which involves the entire town in enthusiastic week-long celebrations of this tasty mollusc. There is a full programme of scallop-themed events and activities, from shucking demonstrations and tasting sessions to quiz nights and cooking classes. The town’s restaurants, cafes and pubs join in with gusto, dishing up inventive tasting menus and seafood feasts starring locally caught scallops.
Some 15,000 scallops will be shucked during the week celebrations — you will find platefuls of them everywhere, from Michelin star-worthy establishments to humble chippies, market stalls and food trucks. One experience not to miss is Webbe’s at the Fish Café’s epic six-course scallop tasting menu, which includes scallop sashimi, scallop pan-fried in curry and lime oil, and a risotto of seared scallop with Sussex truffle and Jerusalem artichoke. Mmmmmmm, delicious!
There’s also the chance to attend ‘scallop school’ at Webbe’s Cookery School in Rye, supervised by acclaimed restauranteur and chef Paul Webbe himself. With the guidance of this impassioned advocate for sustainable seafood, you will learn how to prepare and cook Rye’s famous mollusc, then savour a seven-course lunch served with wine; dates available are 24th and 25th February and 9th March. Paul is also holding three cooking demonstrations and five-course luncheons during the festival itself, on the 23rd and 29th February and 1st March! Check here for details.
Marinated, seared, ceviche, deep-fried….chances are you’ll find plump scallops prepared in a way you have never come across before during Rye Bay Scallop Week. If you’re not able to make it to the festival this year, why not try your hand at cooking scallops at home, following some of these recipes here.
For more information about this fabulous gourmet week, including participating restaurants, menus and a programme of events, please visit scallop.org.uk.
Cover photo credit: Clive Sawyer