How to Buy, Clean, and Cook Scallops

Scallops are like the candy of the sea: we're always in the mood for them and we can always have just one more! They used to be a special treat that we only had when eating out, but then we discovered how incredibly easy they are to make at home. Here are a few tips we've learned over time:
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Buying Scallops

The most common kind of scallops we see at the store are wet-packed sea scallops. You can also sometimes find them dry-packed or diver-caught, which usually indicate a higher quality scallop. Bay scallops are a less common variety of coastal scallop that are smaller, sweeter, and more delicate.

Whichever kind you buy, look for scallops that are a uniform pearly-white color with firm, slightly moist flesh. They shouldn't be either completely dry or dripping with moisture. Don't spend your money on scallops that look mangled or shredded. This shows mishandling and can also sometimes indicate lack of freshness. Also, we wouldn't bother with frozen scallops as their texture and flavor isn't nearly as good.

We usually buy about 1.5 pounds for a dinner party of four people. This is enough for everyone to have their fill, and you might just get a few leftovers!

Cleaning Scallops

Compared to other shellfish, scallops are very easy to prepare for cooking! We usually just rinse them under cool running water and pat them dry. Check over the scallops as you're handling them and remove the side-muscle if you find any still attached.

The side-muscle is a little rectangular tag of tissue on the side of the scallop (see image below). It feels tougher than the rest of the scallop and its muscle fibers run opposite the fibers in the scallop itself. Just pinch it between your thumb and first-finger, and tear it away. Don't worry too much if you can't find it on all the muscles. It often gets dislodged and washed away during the harvesting process and they won't harm your dish if a few slip through.

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Preparing Scallops

Now to the good part! Scallops can be seared, grilled, poached, or even eaten raw if they're very fresh. They cook very quickly and become tough and chewy if overcooked. In our opinion, it's better to undercook them a bit rather than cook them too long.

Our favorite way to prepare scallops is to simply melt a little butter or olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and sear the scallops. We sear them for about a minute and a half on both sides, just enough to get a golden crust and barely cook them through. To get a really crispy crust, make sure the scallops are dry as possible before going into the pan and salt them only at the very last second. Ditto for grilling.

Poaching is a nice method to use if you're making a seafood salad or if you're planning on using the scallops in a filling. It gives us an incredibly tender and lightly seasoned scallop. We'll make enough court bouillon to cover the scallops, bring it to a bare simmer, and then poach the scallops for just a few minutes.

Any questions on preparing scallops? What's your favorite way to prepare them?

Related: Food Science: What is Ceviche?

(Image: Flickr member mkosut licensed under Creative Commons and Emma Christensen for the Kitchn)

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