Scallops are one of the most expensive, but also most delicious proteins of the sea! So… what are they?
What are scallops?
Scallops are bivalve mollusks that live in shells in saltwater. They have a delicate taste and texture- almost velvety- and cook up sweet and tender. There are different types of scallops and different ways to fish for them.
Types of Scallops
Most are categorized into sea scallops (larger ones) or bay scallops (smaller ones).
Bay scallops are common on the Eastern seaboard in shallow, warm water. They are usually cheaper because they are easier to catch, have a shorter life cycle (meaning they come to mature quicker) and are just plain smaller so considered to be less desirable.
Sea scallops live in colder water on the floors of the dark ocean. They are harder to capture and also much larger and therefore, are more expensive.
Both are good for different types of uses.
If you see a “diver” sea scallop it just means that it was hand harvested by an actual scuba diver instead of by a machine. This is why they are more expensive.
How to Buy Scallops
Regardless of the size, a scallop should be a pale pink or light beige color with a soft texture. They are a little slimy, but shouldn’t be gooey or grey.
When buying fresh, I ask about scallops being “dry packed”. This means they weren’t soaked in water, which bloats them up to a larger size, but ensures that they will shrink the moment you put them in the pan.
Wet packed scallops are packed in a brining solution and have a longer shelf life, but will also suffer in terms of flavor and texture since they are waterlogged.
Frozen scallops are also a good buy and usually not soaked in water first so the size frozen is a good indication of the size when cooked.
Scallops should smell like the ocean, but not have an overly fishy smell.
The packaging or labels should be marked with the letter “U” (stands for under) and a number.T This indicates how many scallops are per pound (like you see with shrimp). U-10 is the largest and means less than 10 scallops per pound. Smaller bay scallops might be as tiny as U-40.
Scallops should be expensive (at least sea scallops) AND THERE ARE FAKE ONES OUT THERE. If you see something that is too good to be true, it most likely is!
Storage & Freezing
Like most seafood, you’ll want to use it within 24 hours of purchasing. Store in the coldest part of your fridge.
If never previously frozen, scallops can be frozen for up to 6 months packaged in an airtight container. Do not refreeze previously frozen scallops.
What Do Scallops Taste Like?
Scallops should taste sweet and light with a hint of brininess. they are smooth and tender when cooked properly. You should even need a knife to cut through them.
How to Cook Scallops
Cooking scallops is easy and should be a quick and simple process. The number one issues home cooks come across is overcooking and ending up with rubber.
They don’t require much seasoning or prep work. Make sure you rinse and remove the small muscle from the side. It is edible, but chewy. Nearly all recipes will have you season them with salt and pepper. I like a coarse Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
Pat them dry with paper towels before preparing then you can sear them in a hot pan, bake or broil them. Grilling, frying and serving raw are also common. Scallops are very common in pasta dishes and also risotto.
Recipes That Use Scallops