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Buying and Cooking with Scallops

As Jack and I started to draft our Perfect Pan-Seared Scallops recipe post, we realized that there was far more information that we wanted to share about buying and cooking with scallops, than we could reasonably fit into one recipe post.  If you’re here reading this page – then we know that you’re serious about your scallops, and we’re happy to share what we know!

As we mentioned in our post, there are two kinds of scallops – sea scallops are the large and plump variety, and bay scallops are the smaller scallops – about a half-inch in size.  While bay scallops are sweet and succulent, they are better suited to recipes like a seafood stew or chowder, but not suitable for pan searing due to their size.

As you look to purchase sea scallops for our Perfect Pan-Seared Scallop Recipe, you should be aware that there are actually three different kinds of sea scallops sold at the market:

Some sea scallops caught out at sea are harvested over a period of days until the captain fills his storage on the boat. They are shucked as they come out of the water and are treated with a solution to keep them from spoiling before the boat returns to shore. You can recognize these scallops because they are very white in color – bleach and phosphorous are used in the preserving solution.  While safe to eat, you want to be sure to rinse these thoroughly before using in any of your recipes.

Day boat scallops means that the boat on which the scallops were harvested returned on the same day they left port with fresh untreated scallops. They are also sometimes known as “dry day boat scallops”. These are typically more expensive and are not as abundant as the scallops discussed above.

Finally there are IQF scallops (IQF stands for Individually Quick Frozen). These are frozen on the boat after they are shucked and frozen in single layers so they don’t stick to each other. Once frozen they are bagged and sold in freezer cases at your local markets. These are usually not treated, however they are frozen with a lot of water so by the time you thaw them, you typically lose a fair amount of water volume – leaving about two thirds of what you started with.

If day boat scallops are not available, purchase the fresh mentioned in the first example and rinse well. We do not typically recommend the frozen variety but if that is all that is available, they can be used, and in fact, we have found some fairly decent frozen scallops sold at Costco.

And, in case you are wondering why there are a few darker colored scallops in the batch of scallops you purchased from the market – those are the female scallops!  The white ones are male.   Also – what the scallop eats can sometimes cause the scallop to have a slightly different color, but the effect is only marginal.

When you shop for scallops (or seafood of any kind!), only purchase scallops that are clean and fresh looking with no smell (they should have a slight smell of fresh ocean but not smell like a strong fish odor).

Lastly, scallops do not keep long so if you are planning to purchase them, you should ideally bring a cooler filled with ice with you, and after you make your purchase, place the scallop container in the cooler to keep them as cold as possible until you get home.  (This is especially true in the summertime or warmer climates.)  Once home, scallops should be used same day if possible.

If you don’t use your scallops until the next day, place them in a zipper seal bag and place the bag in a bowl of ice in your refrigerator.   (Yes – it is that important if you are searching for the perfect finished scallop dish!)

By the way, Jack and I pronounce the word ‘scallops’ differently based on where we grew up.   I say scallops with the “a” pronounced like in the name “Hal” and Jack says scallops with the “a” pronounced in the word “ball”.   Jack is (probably) correct in his pronunciation – and he likes to tease me about how I say the word!

You may enjoy these scallop recipes:

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