How To Buy, Clean, and Cook Scallops
We'll tell you all about scallops, including the difference between sea scallops and bay scallops, how to clean them, and how to cook them — and we'll share recipes for you to try so you can enjoy restaurant-quality scallops at home for half the price.
What Are Scallops?
Scallops are bivalve mollusks, a type of shellfish with disk-like adductor muscles that open and close the shell. When cooked, these muscles turn mild, tender, and a little sweet.
Types of Scallops
You'll find two kinds of scallops in the market: the smaller bay scallops, which are plucked from shallow waters like bays and estuaries, and the large, meatier sea scallops, which are found in deeper, colder ocean waters.
How to Buy and Clean Scallops
Scallops are sold both fresh and frozen. Fresh scallops can be sold in the shell or shucked. Just because a scallop is in the fresh catch case doesn't necessarily mean it's a better choice than a frozen scallop: It may have been mishandled on its trip back to land, or have been previously frozen and defrosted. Be sure to smell the scallops before purchase; they should smell clean and sweet. If they have a strong fishy smell, give them a pass.
Scallops are perishable, so it's best to use them the same day you buy them, if possible. If you buy them frozen, they will keep in the freezer for up to three months. Frozen scallops are typically sold already shucked; thaw them in the refrigerator overnight, rather than using the microwave.
If you purchase scallops in their shells, you'll need an oyster knife to open the shell and pry the meat free. Make sure to remove the frill and black stomach sack before rinsing the scallop.
Do You Wash Scallops?
Once a scallop is shucked, it requires only a good rinse with cool water. Be sure to remove the little side muscle, an oblong flap of tissue that's easily cut or pulled away. Pat the scallops dry before cooking.
How to Cook Scallops 4 Ways
1. Seared scallops
Sea scallops are a great choice for searing. You're aiming for a crusty exterior to contrast with the silky smooth interior. Here's how to easily achieve that perfect crust:
- Pat them dry and season with a little salt and pepper.
- Heat a non-stick pan until it's very hot. Add a tablespoon each of vegetable oil and butter (extra-virgin olive oil doesn't have a high enough smoke point for this job).
- Place scallops in the hot fat and don't move them for at least 2 minutes so they can develop that perfect crust.
- Turn the scallops over and cook for another 2 minutes.
RELATED: Get more tips for searing scallops.
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Seared scallops are also wonderful served with pasta. Try this recipe (shown below) for Savory Sea Scallops and Angel Hair Pasta. Tip: If you don't want to have large pieces of scallop in your pasta, you can cut them in half horizontally before searing them. They'll sear in about half the time, so be sure to not overcook them.
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2. Broiled Scallops
Coquilles St-Jacques (shown above) is a classic special-occasion dish that's surprisingly easy to make at home. This traditional French dish features scallops lightly poached in a savory mixture of mushrooms, shallots, and white wine. The scallops are then nestled on a bed of the mushrooms and shallots, topped with a rich, creamy sauce and Gruyere cheese, and broiled until browned and bubbly.
It's traditionally served in a scallop shell, but you can also broil and serve it in shallow ramekins if you bought your scallops pre-shucked.
More recipes for broiled scallops:
3. Baked scallops
One of the easiest ways to prepare scallops is to bake them in the oven, and it takes only a few minutes from start to finish. An easy crumb coating gives baked scallops a delightful crunch on the outside while staying silky on the inside. Try this recipe for Awesome Baked Sea Scallops, shown above.
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4. Grilled scallops
Even if you're working with a George Foreman grill, you can produce scallops that sing a summer tune. Just make sure the scallops are dry and cold when you cook them, and don't leave them on the grill too long: Overdone scallops are rubbery. Try this recipe for Grilled Scallops, shown above.
- Start by placing the scallops on a skewer, or use a wire grill basket.
- Cook the scallops on the grill for five to six minutes.
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