What Are Scallops, How To Cook Them: All The Answers You Need

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

Have you had scallop food in the past? If you have not, you are missing out on some of the most delicious dishes in this world.

I know that their sight at first can be pretty scary but do not let that keep you from uncovering the sweetness within. From the moment I had my first scallop, I knew for sure that I wanted to make some at home for my family and friends. Not only are they super delicious but they also boast of a rich nutritional profile.

Their protein levels are beyond, and if you have had a deficiency in this regard, this is one way in which you can get back on track regarding good health. Here is another thing that I should get out of the way right now. Overcooked scallops are a no, and as you go about your preparation, you need to keep this in mind. Otherwise, the entire procedure will be a waste.

I will show you how to make great scallops as we go ahead, but before we delve into that, I do realize that you may be wondering ‘what are scallops,’ and I will start by expounding on what makes them so great. Enjoy!

What Are Sea Scallops?

Scallops belong to mollusk species, and they live in the sea. They are quite fascinating creatures which feature adorable shells that come with ruffled edges. They move through the expulsion of water from their shells as they do not have fins or other such body parts to help in the same.

They have a muscle tissue which they use to close the shell and thus protect themselves from factors in the external environment. Interestingly, the meat that people eat comes from this tissue. It is for this reason that the flesh appears white in most cases.

There are scallops that you will come across that have an orange or pinkish hue owing to algae in the water. The different colors could also be as a result of contact with eggs or roe. However, most of the shade will be white.

Scallops are mainly in the Atlantic waters, where the sea is deep. Many fisheries offer this delicacy from North Carolina all the way to the northern part of Canada. That is not to say that you cannot find this delicacy in other parts of the world though.

However, if you want to enjoy lots of flesh from these mollusks, you should get those sourced from deep and cold Atlantic waters.

The Taste

Scallops taste is quite tricky as it all depends on how you prepare them. You see, if you end up overcooking them, you end up with flesh that is not only bland but that which is also chewy. When well done, the scallops should have a sweet taste.

You will find that most stores have the sea scallops and the bay scallops. The difference between the two is that the former tend to be large and you can thus sear them. The bay scallops, on the other hand, are best for use in sauces or frying.

I will rate the taste based on four factors as you will see:

Sweetness

Scallops are known for how delicious they are and one of the reasons that people avoid overcooking them is so that they can preserve the natural sweetness. To make one serving, you would need three big sea scallops.

Bitterness

The great thing about scallops is that they do not have any bitter taste and are thus excellent for anyone who prefers sweet flavors. If you do not adhere to the directions and you end up overcooking them, you will end up with bland and dense scallops that will be hard to enjoy.

Sourness

When shopping for scallops, you should know that fresh ones tend to smell of the sea. They will have a slight saltiness to them but other than that, they should remind you of the ocean. Scallops do not have a sour taste, and if you notice that the ones you’re looking at are emitting a sour scent, you should look for fresh ones.

Saltiness

Though they come from the sea, scallops do not contain much salt, and this adds to their sweetness. If you get large ones, you can sear them as this will increase how delicious they are. If you wish, you can add salt to them once they are ready, but that should be just about it.

Given how great they are when prepared correctly, you will not need much seasoning. If you can, avoid using anything on them and enjoy their natural flavors.

Eating Raw Scallops

Do you enjoy eating raw fish? I have a friend who prefers her fish fresh from the sea and oh, the things that she would do for sushi!

If you are anything like her, you will be happy to know that you can eat raw scallops. When buying scallops which you intend to eat uncooked, I advise that you go for the ones obtained through diving techniques. There are many ways in which people catch scallops, with the two main ones being diving and dredging.

Dredging is mechanical, and for this reason, there is no bias as to the kind of scallops that the fisherman gets when at sea. However, when it comes to diving, the fisherman can sort the large shells from the young ones, and it is thus more environmentally sound. Also, when getting scallops, take a trip to the seaside and get them while they are still alive.

If this is not possible, you may have to rely on fisheries. Given that these mollusks cannot survive when they are not in water, they get processed almost immediately they get into the boat. For this reason, you will find that the scallops you are eating may be raw, but they are not as pure as you would think.

When getting raw scallops, it is essential that you consider a few factors to ensure that you get something that is worth your money and a product that will not endanger your health. First off, you should know that not all scallops qualify to get eaten when raw as some may have been in contact with chemicals that are not suitable for digestion when uncooked.

You should thus carefully read the packaging when buying scallops. Additionally, you could have a talk with your fishmonger who can then direct you as to what scallops you should consider when you do not intend to cook them.

I find that it is better to cook the scallops when you are unsure of their source as well as their edibility when raw. In this way, you can enjoy how delicious they are without thinking about what could go wrong once you finish the meal.

Some manufacturers prefer to preserve scallops in sodium tripolyphosphate, and though this does an excellent job at keeping them fresh, it affects their flavor as well as their weight. Where you want to enjoy the scallops when raw, look for companies that use flash-freezing as well as dry packaging as these will be bursting with flavor.

As for how scallops are when served as sushi, people have varying opinions, so I decided to test it out myself. The one thing that I will say over and over is that I am onboard the scallops train, and I was sure that I would enjoy sushi as much.

The texture was entirely different from what I expected as it was quite fatty. Also, the flavor is not as intense as it is when I cook them. It was pretty dull, and if I had not had cooked scallops in the past, I might not have tried them again for a while. The meat is also quite fleshy if you get what I mean, and there is a hint of brine in it.

If you’ve had seared scallops, I will tell you that you will be in for a surprise when it comes to the sushi. But that is not to say that it is not good. It’s just that it does not live up to the crispiness that comes with searing. Yum!

Nutritional Profile of Scallops

Do you remember what I said about scallops having a rich nutrient profile? Well, I was not pulling your leg. Here’s what you need to know about these mollusks.

About five ounces of scallops will amount to a hundred calories which is not much. However, as you consider this, I should point out that a large scallop could weigh as much as an ounce. For the smaller varieties, you will find that it can take as many as five pieces to amount to one ounce. That means that you can much away happily, knowing that you’ve got your calories in check.

As for the vitamin content, it is quite high, and you can eat scallops to supplement what you get from vegetables. They are also rich in minerals, more so regarding iron.

Their iron levels are so high that scallops have become a dietary requirement of vegetarians who are seeking to add more iron in their diets. It is not a secret that vegetarians tend to suffer from iron deficiency and this fish does wonders for them. This benefit works in favor of anyone who is having trouble maintaining their levels.

Given their astounding nutritional profile, you may wonder what health benefits you stand to derive from their consumption. Well, I’ll tell you this: they are quite many. Have a look at the benefits of scallops:

Low Cholesterol

Seeing as scallops tend to have an oily texture, one would think that their cholesterol levels would be quite high, but this is not the case. For people who have been looking for foods rich in healthy fats, this is a good alternative as scallops are not only low in fat but also the little that they have is the right kind.

They have omega-3 fats that work to lower your cholesterol levels. The next time your doctor asks what you have been doing to regulate your cholesterol, you can tell them that you have had scallops on the regular.

However, their low-fat content depends on how you prepare them as you could end up adding unhealthy fast in the process. Take an example of where you plan to sear the scallops.

Ensure that you use little fat that is just enough to cook the flesh without taking away how healthy it is. It also helps to use a non-stick pan which will enable you to use as little oil as is possible without undergoing sticking problems.

Scallops are a great addition to the diet, but as you do so, it is essential that you consider a few issues beforehand:

Allergies

If you are allergic to shellfish, you should not consume scallops; else you run the risk of triggering your allergy. Though scallops are mollusks, they can still affect you, and unfortunately, their allergic reactions tend to be more severe than those of crustaceans. For this reason, always check with your nutritionist before eating scallops if you have known fish allergies.

Mercury Levels

Though these fish are unbelievable delicious, they pose a risk to pregnant women in that they tend to contain high levels of mercury.

Though some scallops get farmed in areas with low levels of mercury, you cannot know what you are eating owing to their abundance in the market. Cooking scallops will only help in neutralizing the bacteria but cannot do much when it comes to dealing with any toxins present in the fish.

For this reason, avoid scallops when expectant or when you plan on having a baby soon. If you do not share in the two concerns above, you can comfortably enjoy scallops as you get to up your iron levels. It could be that you have had scallops in the past and they were not as tender and as sweet as you expected at the time.

In such a case, it could be that you were not consuming real scallops as there are many fake varieties on the market. How then can you protect yourself from getting duped and thus ensure that you get value for your money? It all comes down to knowing what you should expect regarding scallops. Take a look.

The Two Main Types of Scallops

Scallops have a close relation to oysters, clams, and mussels as they belong to the Pectinidae family. There are many varieties of these mollusks, and they depend on where the scallops get farmed. Along the East coast, people enjoy the bay scallops which tend to be small in size. In the deep sea where the waters are cold, there exist the large sea scallops.

Given the difference in size, you will find that the large sea scallops are available at pricy rates when compared to the bay scallops.

The Bay Scallops

Do you remember that I stated that what people consume as flesh is a muscular tissue? Well, a bay scallop is the adductor muscle present in the mollusk. This muscle works to seal the shells. The remaining part of the scallop is the coral and seeing as this is inedible, not much flesh comes from this variety.

Owing to this, the bay scallops you will see on the market will be about half an inch wide. They are known for their soft texture and their characteristic light pink or beige hues.

The Sea Scallops

The source of meat of the sea scallop is the same as that of the bay scallop. The difference comes in owing to the size. A sea scallop may be up to three times bigger than a bay scallop and for this reason; most of them are about two inches wide.

Their flesh is also tender, but it tends to be chewier than that of bay scallops. Diver sea scallops fall into this category, and they fetch a hefty price because diving is good for the environment.

The thing that these two main types of scallops have in common is their scallop look as they tend to be irregular.

Scallops in the Market

When shopping for scallops, you should know that they are available as per weight, usually in pounds. For example, you could come across a packaging labeled U-10. In this case, the package could have ten scallops or less, thus indicating that the scallops were quite large.

In another example, you could find that the label reads U-30/40. In such a situation, it means that the scallops could be anywhere from thirty to forty in the package, thus indicating that there were bay scallops in play. It all depends on what you want as some people have a preference for one type over the other.

When packaged, the scallops come in two forms: dry-packed or wet-packed. I prefer the dry packaging as this means that there are no additions to the scallops and they are pure. It’s also advisable to get this type if you wish to enjoy the scallops uncooked. There is no water in the packaging, and the flesh will thus feel sticky.

The good thing about this type is that the flavor remains intact and the scallops feel fresh. You should note that this type has a short shelf life and cannot stay unconsumed for long.

Wet-packaging, on the other hand, means that the scallops are sitting in a brine solution. Though this works to increase their shelf life, it also alters the flavor as the flesh absorbs the water and becomes plump.

If you wish to use these scallops, ensure that you rinse them thoroughly before cooking them. It is not advisable to eat them when raw as you are not sure of what preservatives the manufacturer may have used.

Fake Scallops

Unfortunately, not every fish seller will have real scallops.

These mollusks fetch tens of dollars per pound, and some shady traders will even sell you shark meat in place of scallops as they seek ways to increase their profits. Others will sell you large sea scallops instead of small and pricey bay scallops, and where you are not aware of the differences, you could quickly pay a hefty sum for the same.

Here are some tips to help you decide if the scallops are the real deal or not.

The first thing you should keep in mind is that scallops are animals and can thus not have similar features. They may be almost the same size, but their shapes will vary. Where the scallops in the display are identical in size and shape, they are likely fake, and the seller may have used a cookie cutter to attain the appearances.

Also, a real scallop will have fibers running across its length as it is a muscular organ whereas a fake one will be dense and solid like meat. These two tips should help you decide on whether you are getting duped.

Now, for everyone who was wondering ‘what are scallops and how to cook them,’ we are about to answer the last section of that question. Let’s get down to the recipe!

How to Cook Sea Scallops – The Easiest Method

There are plenty of ways in which you can cook scallops, and one of the best techniques is grilling. As long as you do not overcook them, they should turn out great.

Ingredients:

  • Three pounds of scallops
  • Five tablespoons of olive oil
  • A pinch of salt
  • A pinch of ground pepper
  • A tablespoon of lemon juice
  • Ten pieces of medium size skewers
  • A hundred grams of squared red bell peppers
  • A hundred grams of squared green bell peppers
  • Fifty grams of fresh pineapple chunks

Directions:

You should start by rinsing the scallops to get rid of any dirt in the scallop shells before drying them. Place the scallops, red and green bell peppers in a large bowl before coating them with some olive oil. Next, add the salt and pepper. When skewering, start with the green pepper, followed by the red before adding the scallops and the pineapple chunks.

Do this for all the scallops before placing them on a hot grill where they should cook for a minute on each side. Squeeze some lemon juice on each skewer and serve the scallops immediately.

I hope that you now understand ‘what are scallops‘ and ways in which you can cook them. Thank you!

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Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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