The scallop, a member of the mollusk family, is a popular seafood choice among those who enjoy a sweet, mild fish. These tiny yet tasty bites are often found on restaurant menus and can be easily prepared at home.
The scallop is a “bivalve” mollusk, meaning it has two hinged shells. The animal filters its food from the surrounding water in its habitat. Unlike other mollusks, including the clam and oyster, mollusks can “swim” by rapidly snapping together its beautiful shells.
The major edible part of the scallop is the oversized muscle that opens and closes the two shells. Technically, this part of the scallop is known as the adductor muscle, but many people merely refer to it as the “nut”. Some countries also eat the “coral”, or reproductive glands, of the scallop, but that portion is not readily available in North American supermarkets.
When you’re shopping for scallops at the fish market or ordering them at your favorite restaurant, you may be unclear as to the varieties available to you. Here’s a guide to help you determine your preference.
Sea scallops – The largest and most common species of scallop available in North America, sea scallops are harvested off the coast of the mid-Atlantic and northeastern states. These are the species most often found in stores and on restaurant menus. Because of their large size, they are generally shucked at sea and only the meat or “nut” is brought to shore. If you purchase sea scallops, you’ll usually average about 20 to 30 per pound. Most well-stocked supermarkets sell these in both the fresh and frozen varieties and they are popular for use in appetizers, such as scallops wrapped in bacon.
Pink/spiny scallops – Another large species of scallop, this variety is usually found off the coast of Washington state and British Columbia. At about 2 inches in diameter, they’re a bit bigger than the sea scallop but are not as readily available. A purchase of a pound of pink scallops will yield 20-25 pieces of this mild shellfish.
Calico scallops – Calico scallops are rather small, averaging about 70 pieces per pound. Raw ones tend to be white in color rather than the usual beige. These scallops are harvested in the Gulf of Mexico and in the waters of the South Atlantic Ocean.
Bay scallops – The smallest of all the scallops, bay scallops are not as plentiful as some of the other varieties, thus carrying a somewhat heftier price tag. Harvested as far south as North Carolina and up to the coast of Maine, bay scallops are sometimes referred to as Nantucket scallops. When you purchase a pound of this variety, you may get as many as 90 scallops. This sweet, tiny scallop is often used for casseroles, stews, and stir-fry, largely because of its manageable size.
Like most seafood, scallops are a low fat, high protein food source, which is why doctors suggest that we eat more seafood and less red meat and other fatty foods. About 4 ounces of scallops carry about 150 calories, with only 40 of those calories from fat (mostly the unsaturated variety). Scallops are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids (the “good” fat), vitamin B-12, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium.
Because they are small in size, it’s very easy to overcook scallops. Keeping a careful eye on them while they’re cooking should keep them from becoming tough. When the scallops turn from translucent to opaque, they are done.
Baking is a popular method for cooking scallops. Preheat a medium-hot oven (about 375 degrees) and cook scallops on a foil-lined pan. Remember to grease the foil so the scallops don’t stick. Bake for about 15 minutes.
Many restaurants serve broiled scallops, which is also a simple way to prepare scallops at home. Brush the scallops with melted butter and broil about 3-4 inches from the heat source. Watch them carefully as they’ll only take a maximum of 7 or 8 minutes to cook. Use a well-greased pan to avoid sticking.
You can also pan sauté your scallops by coating them with milk and then flour and sautéing them in melted butter over medium-high heat. Cook, turning once, until the scallops are a lovely golden color.