Scallops – How to Catch’em, Clean’em, and Cook’em

Scallops are one of the most familiar and popular types of seafood. Scallops are related to clams, oysters, and mussels in that they are also bivalve molluscan shellfish. However, with scallops only the adductor muscle that is used to open and close the scallop’s shell is sold and eaten in the U.S. This muscle is the succulent scallop “meats” that are familiar to consumers. Three different types of scallops are commonly sold in seafood markets in the U.S. The largest and most familiar is the Sea Scallop. Bay Scallops are intermediate in size and the smallest are Calico Scallops.

Sea Scallops are the most commercially important scallop in the U.S. They are harvested in offshore ocean waters from Maine to North Carolina with metal dredges. Scallops cannot close their shells tightly and die soon after being taken from the water. Because of their perishability, sea scallops are shucked on the harvest vessel as soon as they are caught, and the meats are iced. A small amount of Sea Scallops are harvested by fishing vessels operating from Eastern Long Island ports, but the majority are harvested in New England and Virginia. New Bedford, Massachusetts for many years was the leading fishing port in the U.S. in terms of the dockside value of landings mainly because of the amount of Sea Scallops landed at that port. Although sea scallops are available all year, peak landings generally begin in spring and continue through the fall.

The Bay Scallop is less plentiful but greatly desired by scallop fanciers. These smaller cousins of Sea Scallops are the most delicate and many say the sweetest of all Scallops. Bay Scallops live in coastal bays in the Northeast. The majority of the harvest has traditionally occurred in the Peconic Bay on Eastern Long Island and on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Harvests from Peconic Bay have been minimal for much of the past decade. A number of factors are likely to have contributed to poor bay scallop harvests some of which include Brown tide algae blooms, nutrient availability and loss of suitable scallop habitat. The harvesting season for Bay Scallops begins in October and the majority of the scallops available for harvest are generally taken within the first month of the season. Bay scallops from Cape Cod are also available during the fall. This same species of scallop is being cultured and farm raised in China and other parts of the world, and imported “Bay Scallops” are available in the New York marketplace during most of the year.

Calico Scallops are found in the warmer waters off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and also in Central and South America. Calico Scallops are small, and are removed from their shell by a shucking process in which the whole scallops are lightly steamed to loosen the scallop meat from the shell. Shucked calico scallops are easy to recognize because they are pale white and opaque around the edges and about the size of baby marshmallows.

Scallops have a characteristic sweet mild flavor that is well known to most seafood lovers. Scallops cook very quickly (generally 3 to 5 minutes) and can be prepared by a wide variety of cooking methods such as sautéing, poaching, broiling, baking, and deep-frying. Most recipes utilize mild ingredients that complement but don’t overpower the delicate taste of the scallop meat. Overcooking can toughen the scallop muscle and cause it to lose much of its moisture and naturally appealing flavor. Dry scallops carefully before pan-frying or sautéing and avoid placing them in the oil or butter until the pan is already hot. They should sizzle and brown almost immediately which will help to seal in the scallop’s natural juices.

Fake Scallops

Sellers are frequently asked if the scallops are real or if they’ve been “manufactured” from skate or shark. The origin of this rumor is hard to determine –there are probably restaurants that have tried such sneaky tricks–but it’s hard to imagine it being worth the effort. First of all, skate flesh with its striated bundles of muscle fibers looks nothing like scallops. Some shark could look a little like scallop flesh, but if you look closely it doesn’t fit the bill either. If you get your scallops home and still have doubts, check for the tiny white muscle that should be adhering to the side of the scallop. This is where the scallop muscle was attached to the shell. The only “imitation” scallop that you might find in the marketplace are made from surimi which is made from fish fillets and then formed into the shape of crab legs, scallops or other shellfish. These products should always be labeled as “Imitation” crab or scallops.

Aphrodite, the Greek symbol of love and beauty, rode the foamy sea in a chariot made of scallop shell. The apostle St. James also earned fame for scallops, still known by much of the world as “coquille Saint Jacques,” by wearing scallop-shelled armor as his personal emblem when he was executed by Emperor Herod. Despite these lofty associations, the handling of scallops is one of the dirty little secrets of the seafood industry.

Commercial seafood distributors routinely put scallops through a chemical process called “soaking.” Phosphates are added to improve appearance, prolong shelf life, and add false weight.

These “soakers” as they’re called, shrink when cooked, can harm unknowing consumers who are allergic, and taste lousy. If you’ve been disappointed with scallops, now you know why.

Rich Scallop Soup

Serves 6



1 pound Scallops, chopped into small pieces

In the top of a double boiler, blend milk, cream, butter or margarine, salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Place top of double boiler over the bottom with boiling water and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. Add scallops to the mixture and cook until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Pour hot soup into individual bowls. Sprinkle each bowl with paprika and parsley.

2 cups Milk

1 cup Heavy cream

2 tbsp. Butter or margarine

1 tsp. Salt

1/4 tsp White pepper

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce


3 tbsp. Parsley, fresh, finely chopped

Recipe provided by the North Carolina Sea Grant Program

Scallops with Green Onion Butter

Serves 4



1 pound Bay or calico scallops (or sea scallops cut in quarters)

In a small bowl combine the butter or margarine, onions, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. Place scallops in four individual shells, ramekins or small oven proof bowls. Dot scallops with green onion butter mixture. Bake at 450°F for about 8 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

1/4 cup Butter or margarine, softened

1/3 cup Green onion, minced

1/4 tsp. Garlic, pressed

2 tbsp. Parsley, fresh, minced

1/4 tsp. Salt

1/4 tsp. White pepper

Recipe provided by the North Carolina Sea Grant Program

Baked Scallops

Serves 4



1 pound Bay or calico scallops (or sea scallops, quartered)

Mix wine, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in medium bowl. Stir in scallops. Add cream and stir. Place mixture in shallow baking dish. Sprinkle with bread crumb mixture.

Bake at 400°F until scallops are done, mixture is bubbly and crumbs are browned (approximately 15 minutes).

2 tbsp. White wine, dry

1 tbsp. Lemon juice, fresh

1/4 tsp. Salt

1/4 tsp. Pepper, white

1/4 cup Heavy cream

1/2 cup Bread crumbs, fresh, mixed with 2 tbsp. melted margarine

Recipe provided by the North Carolina Sea Grant Program

Scallops on the Half Shell with Wasabi Lime Vinaigrette

Recipe Courtesy of Ming Tsai

12 shucked scallops (small or singing)

1 minced shallot

1 teaspoon minced ginger

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon wasabi tobiko

Mix all together and spoon on top of scallops. Garnish with a little more wasabi tobiko. Plate on crushed ice or rock salt.

Yield: 4 servings

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Seared Scallops with Hot Garlic Oil and Chinese Sausage Sticky Rice Package

Recipe Courtesy of Ming Tsai

Canola oil to cook

12 large scallops (U-8)

Salt and black pepper to taste

1/4 cup cilantro leaves

In a hot saute pan, add a little oil and carmelize the seasoned scallops. Use 3 scallops per package. Place on top of opened package and garnish with cilantro leaves and flash with garlic oil.


16 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

1/2 cup peanut oil (Lion and Globe brand)

In a saucepan, heat oil. Add garlic and cook until garlic is light brown. Immediately spoon on top of scallops.


3 cups sushi rice

Water to cover rice

1/4 cup dried scallops

2 diced lapchang, (Chinese sausage)

1/2 cup sliced scallions

1/3 cup oyster sauce

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Salt and white pepper to taste

4 lotus or banana leaves

Using the bowl of a rice cooker, wash rice until clearand fill water to mount Fuji (about 1 inch over the rice level). Add dried scallops and cook rice as normal about 1 hour. When rice is done, put into a large stainless steel bowl to cool. Pull out the scallops and shred them by hand. Add the scallops back to the cooled rice with the lapchang, scallions, oyster sauce and cilantro. Check for seasoning. Place a serving of rice on top of each leaf and fold into a square package. Place in steamer, ensuring that the folded side of the package is underneath. Steam the packages hot. Using a sharp knife, slice the top of the package.

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