Veteran chef Aaron Park couldn’t wait to share the freshest Maine sea scallops he’d seared for his daughter, Ruth Connelly, at their Bath home. These meaty, toddler palm-sized, dry-packed “dayboat” scallops turn up the day they’re harvested at select markets come December. They were a revelation for Park when he first came to Maine from the West Coast in 1989.

Park, who co-owns and heads the kitchen at Henry and Marty Restaurant in Brunswick, wanted his daughter, then about 6, to revere this winter delicacy, too. Alas, her shellfish allergy presented itself that night. Park had told Ruth no dessert unless she ate at least one beautiful scallop bite. Dad spent a regretful night next to his daughter in the bathroom as it all came back up. (Today, Ruth is 14 and a vegetarian.)

Since he can’t cook scallops at home, Park is all the more eager to plate the now-peak season Maine specimens for his customers. Scallop season is strictly regulated, and fisherman mining the close-to-the-coast state beds are subject to daily catch limits and a rotational management plan, where waters open the past two years are now closed to rebuild the stocks. When the fleeting, up to 70-day season started, Park looked forward to Maine Dayboat Scallops Inc. dealer Togue Brawn appearing at the back door of his restaurant, peddling buckets of the mollusk’s sweet, still-twitching adductor muscles. The scallops are cut from the shell just hours before on small Down East boats in Washington and Hancock counties, where they are most plentiful.

Brawn fears Maine’s 400-plus boats could exhaust in-shore state scallop quotas by late January, well before the season ends. So she is doing what she can to market the esteemed Maine scallop now, here and out of state: she made connections with a handful of New York City’s restaurants, and she overnights dry-ice-packed scallops within a day of harvest, in attractive holiday gift totes that she ships nationwide (mainedayboatscallops.com).

Brawn is the daughter of a Cape Elizabeth lobsterman, a longtime waitress at J’s Oyster Bar in Portland, and a former staffer with the Department of Marine Resources. At the last, she helped close the in-shore scallop grounds all along Maine’s coast for three years (they re-opened in 2012), a move intended to allow the declining resource time to begin recovering. Come January, when lobstermen switch to fishing for counter-season scallops, Brawn connects their catch to local restaurants. In addition to Henry and Marty, J’s Oyster Bar will serve Brawn’s scallops in a raw cocktail in the shell; Rosemont Market will carry them, and the new Portland Co-op may, too.

When Maine’s scallop beds reopened two years ago, my family had just moved here. We were enthralled by the briny, never fishy morsels, so fresh you could eat them raw, as I was encouraged to do at the counter at Gurnet Trading Co. near Cundy’s Harbor. Owner Brian Soper dons a dry-suit at dawn almost every day in December to dive for sea scallops in frigid waters.

At home, I’ve made refreshing and bright scallop crudos and ceviches by slicing the mollusk thin and curing them with fresh citrus (Meyer lemon if I can find it) and Maine sea salt, plus a splash of truffle oil for umami. I add shocking pink shaved watermelon radishes, too. It’s a shame to cook scallops this tender into rubbery hockey pucks.

Try to buy Maine dayboat and diver scallops directly from the fisherman (and beware of specimens misleadingly labelled “diver” when they are not). If you buy from a fishmonger, ask questions: who harvested the scallops and where along the Maine coast? What day did they come in? Are they “dry-packed” in nothing but the scallop’s bubbling natural juices?

Fresh Maine scallops are night-and-day from 95 percent of those sold year-round in United States, from large boats farther out at sea in federal waters for at least a week; the smellier specimens are then often artificially plumped in the seafood case with a milky phosphate solution.

The supermarket is not usually not the best place to find the freshest scallops. It’s difficult to find state fishery Maine sea scallops even at Whole Foods in Portland and Hannaford, committed though those stores are to sourcing sustainable seafood. The wild-caught Gulf of Maine ones I saw at Hannaford as the season opened last week were previously frozen and from Canada; others that are labeled Gulf of Maine often come from the Georges Bank federal fishery, from big boats – and some smaller dayboats – that land at New Bedford, Mass. Hannaford Gulf of Maine scallops run cheaper than Whole Foods, $18.99 to $22 a pound, but they’re rarely fresh enough to eat raw like those that Brian Soper hand-plucks and then hands to customers at his counter.

Such fresh scallops also have little in common with the previously frozen and farm-raised ones from Peru, floating in that milky pool and sometimes incorrectly labeled “dry.”

Wine and food connoisseur Anne Tessier-Talbot of Tess’ Market in Brunswick splurges on an 8-pound bucket of Maine scallops from a friend who dives for them every December. She flash-freezes and vacuum-seals them in their natural juices to enjoy a few with a nice piece of steak for surf-and-turf dinners with her husband, Bruce Talbot.

“They’re so fresh, they’re still breathing,” Tessier-Talbot says. “I make them all year. They’re so much more flavorful and elegant, these big orange medallions, phenomenal even raw.”

The half- and whole hogs that some Maine families stock their chest freezers with for the holidays yield the perfect sweet scallop complement: salty bacon. Bruce Talbot cures and smokes his own pork belly from the family’s ordered pig; Anne fries those Maine scallops in bacon grease, then crumbles bacon shards atop the seared scallops to serve as an appetizer.

My 3-year-old, Theo, is finicky about seafood, except mussels, but he loves bacon. Wrapping scallops in bacon, that go-to Christmas preparation, might make him give scallops a chance this season.

Theo, who is musical, was entranced by the way the live scallop shells clattered away like so many castanets when aquaculturist Nate Perry hoisted their cages onto his skiff in Cape Elizabeth’s Kettle Cove last August. I was interviewing Perry about the small whole scallops, called princess scallops (their roe is a European and Asian delicacy), that he is growing under a special development grant; his scallops briefly appeared on the menu at Portland’s Fore Street, and he’s in the market for more restaurant customers.

Just as we take our children to see gobbling turkeys and squealing, rooting pigs, we must bring them to boats to meet their fisherman, and understand how a precious, delicious resource like scallops – if harvested with science-informed caution – might make a delicate, tentative recovery.

AARON PARK’S SEARED MAINE SCALLOPS IN ORANGE-CHIPOTLE-BACON GLAZE

Come holiday season, Aaron Park of Henry and Marty Restaurant in Brunswick puts this dish on his menu: Maine dayboat scallops over baby spinach, with a salty-sweet glaze and a garnish of micro-green corn shoots that Westport Island’s MicroMainea sells at the Bath Winter Farmers Market. “Their pure corn essence brings out the sweetness of the scallop,” Park says.

Once the skillets are hot, this dish takes about 5 minutes to make, so have everything else that you’re serving for dinner ready. Also, the hot butter and cooking scallops will – and should – make some smoke, so have your stove vent going.

Serves 4

¼ pound sliced bacon

1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1 tablespoon chipotle en adobo

24 dry Maine dayboat or diver scallops (10 to 20 count per pound)

Coarse kosher salt

4 tablespoons clarified butter (or just melted butter)

2 cups baby spinach, cut into thin ribbons

¼ cup micro-green corn shoots, for garnish

Cook the bacon, drain and blot off excess fat. Cut into thin pieces and set aside.

Reduce the orange juice by half in a small pot on the stove over medium-high heat. Stir in the chipotle and set aside.

Get two skillets screaming hot, then divide the butter between the two. Immediately place the scallops in the hot butter (careful). Very lightly sprinkle with salt. Right away, using tongs, carefully pick up and put back down the scallops (without turning over) so that they do not stick. When they are seared to your liking, 2-3 minutes, turn them over and to sear on the second side.

Remove from the pan when both sides are nicely browned, and arrange on top of the spinach.

Return the pan to the flame. Add the bacon and cook briefly to crisp up and then add the orange juice/chipotle glaze. Reduce until syrupy over medium heat, 1-2 minutes, and pour over the scallops and spinach.

Sprinkle micro-green corn shoots on top and enjoy!

Laura McCandlish is a Brunswick-based food writer and radio producer. Follow her on Twitter @baltimoregon and read her blog at baltimoregon.com.