What are scallops?
Like clams, mussels and oysters, scallops are bivalve molluscs. They have two shells connected by a hinge inside the hinge, which contains a strong muscle called the adductor muscle. This muscle gives the scallop its most unique feature among bivalves—the scallop can swim. As the adductor muscle expands and contracts, it opens and closes the creature's shell, expelling water from one end and causing the scallop to swim in the opposite direction.
Scallops can be found in the sand at the bottom of the water sources where they live. Their shells have a flat side and a rounded side, the side that is buried under the sand. These shells are very fragile, so they need to be shelled when the scallops are harvested. All other molluscs are usually caught alive and sold with their shells intact to preserve freshness. The part of the scallop we eat is its adductor muscle.
These mobile creatures navigate their surroundings through 100 keen eyeballs, which can be spotted along the edge of their carapace. The eyeball can interpret darkness, light and motion using a human-like retina. The main food of scallops includes algae, krill, plankton and larvae.
What do scallops look like?
Because there are nearly 400 different species of scallops that inhabit saltwater environments from bays to estuaries to the seafloor, they vary widely in size, color and shape. Like all bivalve molluscs, scallops have two shells connected by a hinge. These shells are usually oval in shape and have ribbed edges. The top is usually a polished color, while the bottom is more of an eggshell color. About five to ten percent of sea scallops are albino, meaning their shells are pure white. Sea scallops have less pronounced shells, probably because they need to be more hydrodynamic. Scallops range in size from a few millimeters to three feet in diameter, although the average sea scallop is about six inches in diameter.
The inside of the scallop is controlled by large, rounded adductor muscles that are responsible for its mobility. This muscle is usually opaque and white in color - although some may be pink. The other most visible part of the scallop's interior is the coral, which is the scallop's reproductive organ. Since scallops are hermaphroditic, the coral has two parts: a small gray male part and a prominent orange female part. Generally speaking, coral should be removed when harvesting scallops. Once out of the shell, you'll notice a skin-like flap called a snap - where the scallop attaches to its shell. It should also be removed before cooking.
Wet scallops, dry scallops, dive scallops, and sunbune scallops explained
How scallops are harvested directly affects their flavor, texture and cooking process. It’s important to know whether your scallops are wet or dry harvested. When wet scallops are harvested, they are placed in cold seawater with an artificial preservative called sodium tripphosphate added. This process makes the scallops plump and appear larger than their harvest weight. However, this makes it nearly impossible to sear the scallops even after thawing and drying them. Plus, you end up paying for the weight of the water rather than the actual meat. You should only buy wet scallops for recipes where the texture of the scallops is not as important as chowder.
Dried scallops are harvested, shucked, cleaned and flash-frozen within four hours without the use of artificial preservatives. They may have a shorter shelf life, but they retain their original shape and texture. Many consumers swear they can taste the difference between wet and dry scallops, claiming wet scallops have a soapy aftertaste. If you plan to sear scallops, choose dry scallops.
Diver scallops are scallops that are caught by hand by deep-sea divers, rather than using nets to dredge the seafloor. These scallops are a more environmentally friendly option for eating scallops, although they are more expensive. Scallops are dried scallops harvested from December to February on small fishing boats. They are generally sold within 24 hours of harvest and are particularly valuable.
How do scallops taste?
Unlike clams, oysters, and mussels, scallops don't have a strong salty, fishy flavor. The words most commonly used to describe the taste of scallops are nutty and sweet. Scallops are rich in free amino acids and a high proportion of glycogen, which is converted into glucose when heated. As a result, scallops naturally caramelize as they cook, enhancing their natural sugars and mimicking a flavor similar to almonds.
They usually taste the same as shrimp or lobster. While there are some similarities, scallops have a slightly less oceanic flavor and a firmer texture than most seafood. Their flavor and texture also depend on where the scallops come from. Sea scallops tend to be meatier, while bay scallops tend to melt in your mouth. Scallops are an excellent seafood dish for those who don't like fish or shellfish because of their salty taste.
How to cook scallops
The most important fact to remember when cooking scallops is that they are easily overcooked. The scallops quickly went from delicious to something more like rubber balls. However, a few basics can ensure your scallops are perfect every time. First, if you are using frozen scallops, thaw them thoroughly. The part or flap of the scallop that connects to its shell is then removed. Next, pat the scallops dry with paper towels, otherwise they will steam instead of char, hindering their natural caramelization tendency. Third, be sure to season before cooking. We like to use a hint of sumac, a slightly lemony spice that accentuates the flavor of the buttery and nutty scallops. Finally, fat should facilitate high-temperature cooking. Butter is one such fat. Unlike olive oil, olive oil burns at high temperatures.
Once your scallops are properly prepared, you can pan-sear, bake, grill, sear, poach or use them in ceviche. No matter how you prepare them, make sure to use the right type of scallops for the recipe. Bay scallops are better suited for ceviche and chowder. Sea scallops are great for grilling, pan-frying, baking and grilling. Be sure to cook the scallops at the last minute before serving. We love our scallops topped with an acidic sauce, such as herbal pesto.
Where to buy scallops
Bay scallops are produced in the shallow waters of the East Coast of the United States or imported from Mexico and China, of which China accounts for about 85% of the world's farmed scallops. Sea scallops inhabit cold water at a depth of about 200 meters in the world's oceans. Although scallops are available year-round, peak season is fall and winter.
Fresh scallops should be purchased from a reputable seafood supplier—either near where they are harvested or in a metropolitan area where fresh seafood can be transported. They should not smell fishy or sulfurous. If you find them in a gray-white viscous liquid, they have been heavily treated with sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP), which indicates they were wet harvested.
Frozen scallops are probably a better option for most people in the United States because scallop shells are very fragile and most scallops are shelled and frozen immediately after harvest. Flash freezing preserves freshness and is the safest way to ensure your scallops are never past their prime. Before purchasing frozen scallops, be sure to pay attention to frostbite on frozen scallops.
Nutritional information for scallops
Scallops, like other seafood, can be part of a healthy diet—depending on how they're prepared. They are a high-protein, low-carbohydrate food source that is relatively low in calories - only 137 calories per 100 grams. Although scallops are extremely low in fat, they are high in cholesterol and sodium. One serving of scallops contains 660 milligrams of sodium, which is almost 29 percent of the USDA's recommended daily sodium intake. Additionally, people with seafood or shellfish allergies may not eat scallops, even if they are not allergic to scallops themselves, as there is often the potential for cross-contamination with other shellfish during food preparation.
Scallops are a nutritional powerhouse when it comes to vitamins and minerals. They are rich in selenium, zinc, phosphorus, B12, taurine, calcium, potassium, iron and magnesium. Additionally, scallops are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Scallops are also one of the few seafood options listed as one of the "best" choices for pregnant women by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Here's a list of seafood options that are low enough in mercury to be safe for pregnant women.
Varieties of Scallops
There are two basic types of scallops: bay scallops and sea scallops. Bay scallops are typically found in saltwater estuaries and shallow waters along the U.S. Atlantic coast. They are smaller in size, 80-120 scallops per pound. These scallops are generally sweeter and have a creamier texture than sea scallops. They're best for simple recipes like casseroles, chowders, stews, and ceviches.
Sea scallops are typically found in the deep, cold, salty waters of the Atlantic Ocean. They are three or more times larger than bay scallops, with 10-30 scallops per pound. Sea scallops are meatier and have a saltier flavor. They're best pan-fried, broiled, baked or broiled. Their size makes them ideal for main courses.
The calico scallop is a close relative of the bay scallop. They are tiny scallops with brightly colored, speckled shells. Their meat is darker than traditional bay scallops, with a tender texture and nutty flavor. They are typically found in the Gulf of Mexico in warmer waters than common bay scallops. The best way to enjoy calico scallops is to steam them or eat them raw in ceviche.
How to preserve scallops
Scallops, like other seafood, go bad quickly. The best way to keep scallops fresh is to place a sealed Ziploc bag on ice in the refrigerator. Using ice ensures that the scallops stay between 32 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit. If stored properly, scallops will keep for three days. However, it is best to consume it on the day of purchase.
Cooked scallops also keep well for three to four days when refrigerated. Once the scallops are cooked, they should be allowed to cool within two hours before transferring to a ziplock bag. You can store cooked scallops in a sealed bag in the refrigerator or freezer for up to three months.
To avoid frostbite, transfer frozen scallops to a ziplock bag. Repackaged scallops should always be stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator, not in the door. Frozen scallops can be stored for up to three months. Be sure to thaw frozen scallops properly in the refrigerator. When defrosted, remove scallops from packaging and place in a large glass bowl sealed with plastic wrap. They should thaw overnight. Never refreeze thawed scallops.