Scallop Basics

Varieties, purchasing, and storing.

seared scallops dish
stu_spivack/Flickr/CC 2.0

Scallops are a bivalve marine mollusk with a beautiful shell, edible muscle, and roe. Scallops are a prized source of low fat protein and valuable omega-3 fatty acids. Scallops can be cooked a number of ways including grilled, pan-seared, baked, or fried.

Scallop Varieties

Sea Scallops - Sea scallops are harvested in the mid to north Atlantic region. They are the largest variety, which often makes for an impressive presentation. These larger scallops are well-suited for grilling as they can be easily maneuvered on the grill surface. Sea scallops average about 20-30 per pound.

Bay Scallops - Bay scallops are harvested along the north Atlantic coast and tend to be much smaller than sea scallops. These small chunks of meat are perfect for tossing into soups, salads, and stir-fries. Some people prefer their slightly sweeter flavor to the larger sea scallops. Bay scallops can average up to 90 pieces per pound.

Calico Scallops - Calico scallops are harvested in warm water, usually off of the gulf coast of the United States and Mexico. Calico scallops average around 70 per pound and must be steamed open to remove the muscle.

Dry Pack Scallops - Scallops that are frozen or refrigerated without any additives are labeled as "dry pack." Because these scallops have not been injected with any additional liquids, they shrink less during cooking. Due to their high perishability, only scallops that can be quickly transported from boat to shore for sale are sold as dry pack scallops.

Wet Pack Scallops - Scallops that have been injected with a liquid mixture containing the preservative STP are labeled as "wet pack." STP is added to preserve the scallops if there will be a delay between harvesting and sale. The extra moisture absorbed by wet-pack scallops causes them to shrink more during cooking, have an inflated weight, and therefore inflated price.

Purchasing and Storing Scallops

Look for scallops that have a sweet, fresh smell, never fishy. The flesh should be white to beige and slightly transparent. The flesh should be firm and intact, never slimy or pulling apart.

After bringing fresh scallops home, they should be stored in the refrigerator on a bed of ice. Cover the scallops with a damp towel to keep them moist. The ice is necessary to keep the scallops cool enough, without freezing. When stored properly, fresh scallops can be stored up to two days.

Scallops that are purchased frozen can be kept in the freezer for up to three months. Frozen scallops can be thawed in the refrigerator or under cold running water. If choosing the water method, leave the scallops in their packaging so that they do not become waterlogged or lose their flavorful juices.