Scallops are one of the most expensive, but also most delicious, proteins of the sea! Nothing beats a bowl of risotto piled high with large sea scallops. But what are scallops?

plate of raw sea scallops

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) or bay scallops (smaller). You should be able to find both as good quality scallops at your local grocery store or seafood counter. They are usually wild scallops and rarely farmed.

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 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.

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 AND THERE ARE FAKE ONES OUT THERE. If you see something that is too good to be true, it most likely is!

Dry Scallops vs Wet Scallops

When buying fresh, I ask about scallops being “dry packed” or “dry scallops“. 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 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.

Storage & Freezing

Like most seafood, you’ll want to use it within 24 hours of purchasing. Place them in an airtight plastic bag and remove as much air as possible. 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.

They are perfect for a meaty main course or hearty appetizer.

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 side muscle. It is edible, but chewy. Nearly all scallop recipes will have you season them with sea salt and black pepper. I like a coarse Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

Pat them dry with a paper towel to reduce excess moisture before preparing then you can sear them in cast iron skillet, bake or broil them. Grilling, frying and serving raw are also common. Scallops are very common in pasta dishes and also risotto. There are oodles of scallops recipes out there.

Best Way to Cook Scallops- Searing

Searing scallops is probably the most common way to serve them. For this you need a good nonstick skillet cast-iron skillet so you won’t need to use any olive oil or butter. If using a regular large skillet or stainless steel, you might need a minimal amount of oil to prevent sticking.

Fresh scallops need to be super dry to get a nice brown crust. You can rinse them in cold water and remove the muscle (if they have one) and then pat dry well with a paper towel.

  1. Place them in a single layer to a smoking hot pan (medium-high heat) and don’t move them, this gives a nice sear on the first side.
  2. If they start to release moisture, tip the pan over the sink and pour it off. This is usually the results of wet packed scallops and the moisture will prohibit getting the crust.
  3. Flip and repeat. It only takes 2 minutes per side for a large scallop to get a nice crust; the top of the scallop should be golden around the edges.

If serving them plain, they taste delightful with a spritz of fresh lemon juice, lime juice, melted butter or a compound butter made with fresh herbs. They also taste fantastic with a white wine sauce like beurre blanc.

Recipes That Use Scallops

close up of raw scallops

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