Many of us order scallops when we dine out because, unlike chicken, we don't often cook them at home, preferring to entrust their cooking to professional chefs. But there's no reason to be daunted by the buttery bivalves -- they're as easy to cook as shrimp, and as special-seeming as lobster. Scallops add an elegant touch to soups, salads, pastas, and stews –- and they're low in calories and fat.

Scallops are naturally low in calories and fat.

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.

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 prosper in deeper, colder ocean waters.

Buying and Cleaning Scallops

Scallops are available in a variety of sizes, ranging from tiny marble-sized bay scallops to sea scallops bigger than silver dollars. They're also sold both fresh and frozen. 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 quite 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 shucked; thaw them in the refrigerator overnight, rather than using the microwave.

If dealing with a scallop still in its shell, you'll need an oyster knife to pry the meat free. Make sure to remove the frill and black stomach sack before rinsing the scallop.

Once a scallop is shucked, it requires only a good rinse with cool water. While cleaning, make sure each scallop has been shorn of its side muscle, an oblong flap of tissue that's easily cut away. Pat the scallops dry before cooking.

Baking Scallops

One of the easiest ways to prepare scallops is to put them in the oven. Because scallops are so naturally creamy, you don't need to do much to them before cooking: A little garlic, white wine and lemon add up to elegance. In an oven preheated to 350 degrees, it takes a dozen scallops about 15 minutes to brown.

Dinah's Baked Scallops

"This is my favorite way to prepare scallops," says DEBNJAMES. "They're so flavorful they don't really need much more than a little butter and lemon. I like to serve them with a nice rice pilaf and vegetable."

Dinah's baked scallops. Photo by cookin'mama

Marinated Scallops Wrapped in Bacon

"This sweet and salty, melt-in-your-mouth appetizer is sure to please anyone," says Gabsmom.

Marinated Scallops Wrapped in Bacon | Photo by Happybaker

Pecans are another fun finish.

Searing Scallops

Remember those scallop choices at the seafood counter? One more choice you might face is between wet-pack and dry-pack scallops, which are also called day boat scallops. Dry-pack are the best pick for searing, a beautiful way to prepare scallops.

To sear scallops, season them with salt, pepper, and – if you're in the mood – cayenne pepper. Then fry them over high heat in an oil with a high smoke point, such as grapeseed oil (this is not a job for olive oil). Sear the scallops for 2-4 minutes on each side, taking care to ensure they don't cook in their own juices: If the oil cooks off, pour out the scallop juice and add more oil to the pan.

Seared scallops pair effortlessly with tropical flavors, such as mango salsa; pineapple-and-lemongrass and jalapeno vinaigrette.

Seared Scallops with Spicy Papaya Sauce

"Loved this recipe," raves Jennifer. "The mixture of flavors was truly outstanding. Reminds me of a dish one would eat on vacation in Cancun."

Seared Scallops with Spicy Papaya Sauce | Photo by naples34102

Video: Seared Scallops with Jalapeno Vinaigrette and Oranges

See how to make seared scallops served with fresh orange segments and a mild jalapeño vinaigrette. Quick and easy yet elegant and absolutely bursting with flavor.

Or you can take a Mediterranean approach, plating the scallops with basil or prosciutto.

Broiling Scallops

One of the great scallops classics is coquilles St-Jacques, a traditional French dish featuring white wine-poached scallops, topped with cheese and broiled til bubbly.

Grilling 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.

When putting scallops directly on the grill, cooling shouldn't take more than five or six minutes.

Scallop and Shrimp Kabobs

"Loved the pepper, pineapple and seafood combination," says Dixie's Mom. "The marinade is subtle, tasty, yet doesn't overpower."

Scallop and Shrimp Kabobs | Photo by Linda Scott

How to Make Bacon-Wrapped Scallops

See how to make scallops wrapped in bacon with a simple fresh sage treatment. As a finishing touch, a simple squeeze of fresh lemon gives the scallops a bright burst of flavor.

Browse dozens of scallop recipes.