Scallops are one of the most exquisite and satisfying seafoods that you can feast on.
We often see them in dishes and in buffet spreads as small, round, delectable discs but in their natural form, scallops are exquisite mollusks.
They have a pair of convex shells that are ridged, or “scalloped” hence the name. These shells are connected at one end, and thus scallops are categorized by marine biologists are bi-valve mollusks. The flesh of the scallop that we eat is actually the muscle that serves to open and close the two shells. This edible portion is also sometimes referred to as the “nut” of the mollusk.
There are actually many types of scallops to choose from, especially if you are buying them fresh at the market. If you have ever been in one, you will see that they are labelled by numbers. Have you ever wondered what they mean?
The conventional way of labelling scallops designate the number of pieces of scallops that would fill a pound. For instance, a label that shows “20/30” means that there would be around 20 to 30 pieces of such scallops in a pound. Hence, if the number on the label is small, it means the pieces of scallops in that batch are quite big in size. Conversely, if you are looking for small sizes of scallops, look for labels that have high numbers.
Some labels for very large scallops indicate a letter “U” instead—this means “under.” A label like “U/10” would mean that a pound of scallops would contain less than 10 pieces. Incidentally, this label indicates the biggest scallops available on the commercial market.
From small to big
Among the smallest size of scallops are called bay scallops. These are also called by other names such as cape scallops, Nantucket scallops, China scallops, calico scallops or queen scallops. They are usually designated by the label 70/120, which means there would be around 70 to 120 pieces of scallops per pound.
Since they are small in size, bay scallops are not ideal for searing or grilling. They are rather sweet in taste, and their delicate size makes them ideal as ingredients in sauteed dishes or salads. They would be rather difficult to eat on their own.
On the other hand, the large types of scallops are called sea scallops. These are what are commonly used in popular recipes. They are usually designed with labels such as 10/40 each pound, or even up to U/15 and U/10. They are usually 1 to 2 inches in diameter, and are perfect for pan searing—just like a thick slice of meat. Sea scallops are also called king scallops, diver scallops, Alaskan scallops or jumbo scallops.
Frozen or fresh?
If you have access to market-fresh scallops, it would be good to purchase them but only if you will be able to cook them immediately within the day or so. Fresh might not be necessarily good if you will not be able to consume them quickly, because you might not be able to store them properly in the freezer to use later on.
Frozen seafood such as scallops that are found in supermarkets have been professionally packed, and so you can count on them to last longer in the fridge. Just be sure to handle them well. It is not recommended to defrost scallops in the microwave as they might get slightly cooked already, and they will lose their delicate texture and taste.
Experts recommend placing frozen scallops in the refrigerator overnight to thaw them slowly and properly. If you are in a hurry, an alternative is to place frozen scallops in a bag and pour cold (not hot) water over them. Leaving them out in the open to thaw is also not recommended as it may expose them to bacteria or harmful organisms. It might also make the scallops soggy from being steeped in water for a long time.
Wet or dry packed scallops?
Not many people are aware that packaged scallops are usually soaked in a phospate solution that bleaches them and makes them absorb more water. Phospate is usually found in products such as soaps, therefore you may encounter some scallops that may taste slippery or soap-like. You will also notice this soap-like liquid if you steam them, for instance.
Soaking scallops in phospate is unfortunately an accepted practice in the industry, but if you wish to avoid that, make sure to buy scallops that are dry packed or labelled “chemical-free.” Since soaked scallops absorb more water, you also end up paying a bit more in weight—another reason to think about dry packed options.
Healthy and heart-friendly
Scallops are not only tasty and delicious, but good for the health as well. Just like many other seafoods, scallops are rich in vitamins and minerals, like vitamin B12, magnesium and potassium. Vitamin B12 is believed to help prevent diseases such as colon cancer.
Scallops also contain a lot of omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for the heart. Studies have also shown that eating seafood high in omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) can prevent the progress of Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive ailments. Further, eating fish and seafoods such as scallops at least once a month may protect against strokes.
Cooking scallops for health
All these health benefits of scallops are best enjoyed when they are cooked properly and in a healthy way. Scallops are a bit difficult to work with in the kitchen, because it tends to come out tough and rubbery when overcooked. But when done just right, it is truly sumptuous and flavorful.
If you are not sure how to enjoy scallops at home, here are a few easy yet yummy recipes that you can experiment with. Feel free to adjust or tweak these recipes to suit your tastebuds!
Garlic Lemon Scallops
This is a very basic but tasty way to enjoy scallops. It is a recipe so easy that even kids can try it at home.
- Melt some butter in a pan and saute a few cloves of crushed garlic.
- Add in half a pound of jumbo scallops and saute for a few minutes. Sear both sides of the scallops and make sure they are evenly cooked.
- A sign that scallops are ready is when they turn opaque. Gather the scallops and transfer on a plate.
- Squeeze some fresh lemon juice into the butter mixture where the scallops were seared. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour the lemon butter mixture over the scallops and serve.
- You can enjoy this best with pasta such as angel hair or spaghettini.
Oriental Scallops in Soba Noodles
Enjoy a different twist to scallops with some inspiration from Japanese cuisine. This dish is filling with the buckwheat soba noodles, but still definitely healthy.
- In a bowl, combine the following liquids—one tablespoon each of soy sauce, orange juice, rice wine vinegar and honey, and a teaspoon of sesame oil.
- Add half a teaspoon of minced ginger and some chili garlic sauce depending on your preference for spiciness.
- Marinade a pound of scallops in the mixture. Line up the scallops in a shallow dish and pour the mixture in.
- After a few minutes, heat up some sesame oil in a pan and sear both sides of the scallops. Once cooked, transfer them to a plate.
- Afterward, pour the marinade into the pan and let it simmer quickly. Then, add back the scallops.
- Cook the buckwheat soba noodles separately and add them into the sauce. Add salt to taste, and top off with chopped green onions.
Healthy Seafood Paella with Scallops
Paella is a traditional Spanish dish that can be quite heavy on the stomach with its medley of meat and vegetable ingredients. A healthy alternative is to use seafood such as scallops, and couscous as an alternative for white rice.
- In a pan, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil and saute some minced garlic and onions. Add some herbs such as thyme, fennel seed and saffron threads. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.
- Add a cup of diced tomatoes and one-fourth cup of chicken or seafood broth. Bring to a simmer and then reduce the heat. Cover and allow to cook for a few more minutes.
- Turn up the heat again as you add around 4 ounces of jumbo scallops and 4 ounces of peeled, deveined shrimps.
- Once the seafood is cooked (the shrimps turn red and the scallops become firm and opaque), add in half a cup of whole wheat couscous. Couscous cooks quickly so you can cover it, turn off the heat and allow the dish to cook in remaining heat for a few more minutes.
These are just some of the ways that you can enjoy scallops at home. The variety of these recipes also showcase the versatility of scallops as an alternative to meat such as beef, pork and chicken. Scallops can take on a variety of flavors while remaining healthy and nutritious. Scallops truly make a great addition to a healthy eating regimen.