Here's What to Look for When Buying Scallops
Shop for these bivalves in a smart and sustainable way.
Scallops don't need a lot of bells and whistles to be delicious-just a quick sear and finishing with lemon and butter will do the trick. In order to get to that point, you need to know a few things about these bivalves. For a start, what's the difference between bay scallops and sea scallops? And like other kinds of seafood, including toothfish (often called Chilean sea bass), are scallops at risk for being over-harvested? We spoke with Michael Kohan, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute's technical director, and Ryan Bigelow, Seafood Watch Senior Program Manager, to learn how to shop for scallops.
Shopping for Scallops
Make sure to buy farmed scallops or U.S. wild-caught scallops to ensure that they are sustainable. And how do you spot (and avoid) a bad scallop? "When shopping for any kind of scallop, look out for discoloration, any ice crystals that have formed, and any oxygen exposure," advises Kohan. Freezer burn or broken seals are signs that frozen scallops have been exposed to oxygen, which deteriorates their quality.
Choosing Between Wet Versus Dry Scallops
"Wet [packed] scallops have been treated with water and chemicals to increase their weight and shelf-life," says Bigelow. Dry packed scallops do not contain any additives and will exude very little water. Because of this, they are the preferred choice for chefs and savvy home cooks. Before cooking scallops (wet or dry), it's important to pat them dry; any excess moisture that leaks out will prevent the scallops from getting a delicious golden sear. Another reason to choose dry scallops: When wet scallops are cooked, they shrink in size so the post-sear size of a portion will be smaller.
What's the Difference Between Bay Scallops and Sea Scallops?
Size is the most obvious difference when distinguishing bay scallops and sea scallops; sea scallops are much larger than bay scallops-nearly three times the size. Contrary to their name, the majority of sea scallops are farmed raised, which our experts note is a sustainable practice that produces quality seafood. Sea scallops are what you'll get if you order seared scallops in a restaurant. Bay scallops are sweeter, more tender, and typically used in seafood stews and casseroles. They're only found on the east coast in bays and harbors.
Male Versus Female Scallops
There is a visible difference: Male scallops have the classic white hue you usually see at the seafood counter. Female scallops are more of a bright pinky-peach color. When cooked, however, male and female scallops taste the same.
Are Any Varieties of Scallops Endangered?
According to SeafoodWatch.com, Monterey Bay Aquarium's program that helps offers recommendations for maintaining a sustainable ocean, 28 of the 30 scallop varieties profiled are considered "Best Choice," the highest rating offered. Only two out of the 30 considered a "Good Alternative," which they define as "buy, but be aware there are concerns with how they're caught or farmed." "Scallops, like most mussels and clams, are a great choice for eco-savvy consumers," says Bigelow.
"Eat just two or three scallops and you're consuming 17 grams of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin B12. Such a small amount of seafood can really impact your health in a great way," says Kohan. So go ahead and enjoy Sea Scallops Over Shallot-Herb Pasta, Grilled Scallops with Blistered-Yellow-Pepper-Relish, or an under-30 minute Baked Scallop gratin made with bay scallops for a delicious and healthy meal. "Scallops are such a rich and succulent meal that you really don't need to add much else to make them taste good," Kohan says.