Tips for choosing and preparing scallops—simply delicious
Tasty and succulent, scallops are sweet treats from the sea. Fortunately for those of us who live here, the largest fishery for wild scallops occurs in Eastern Canada, all the way down to the northeastern United States. In Atlantic Canada, the fishery take place in six scallop fishing areas off Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast and part of Newfoundland and Labrador’s southern coast. The majority of scallops are caught off Nova Scotia around Georges Bank.
The abundance of scallops in Atlantic Canada is due to their healthy population and the sustainably-managed, quota-controlled fishery.
The size of scallops caught is strictly controlled as well, which prevents the harvesting of immature, undersized scallops. Scallops are hand shucked on board fishing boats as they are caught. What we refer to as a “scallop” is actually the adductor mussel—here in North America it is typically the only part that we eat, but in Europe the coral, or roe, is also eaten. Once the scallop is removed, the shell and unused parts are returned to the ocean to provide food for other sea life.
During fishing season, scallops can be purchased from fishermen at the wharf and often can be found at roadside stops as well, as fishermen will often set up in high traffic areas and sell directly to consumers from the back of their trucks.
Atlantic Canadian sea scallops are available year round from companies like Comeau’s Sea Foods in Saulnierville or Clearwater Seafoods in Halifax. These companies send large trawlers out for days or even weeks at a time; they harvest, shuck and flash freeze the scallops on board and offer a high quality product.
When purchasing scallops from a fish market or at a specialty fish store you may hear unfamiliar terms such as IQF, which means they were individually quick-frozen. Or the seller may tell you that they have 20/30s available that day, which indicates the size of scallops, meaning it requires between 20 and 30 scallops to make up a pound.
The smaller the number, the larger the scallops; in some cases you will see U15 or U10, where the U stands for under and thus U15 means that there are under 15 scallops in the pound. U10 are generally the largest scallops you can find.
When you see numbers such as 70/120 count, it generally refers to bay scallops, which are very small and often best used in chowders or in dishes such as seafood casserole or pasta. In my opinion, bay scallops are too small for pan searing.
Scallops are a healthy addition to any menu as they are low in fat and take on the characteristics of the spices and condiments you prepare them with, so they can be used in a variety of dishes and in many types of ethnic cooking.
There are some tricks to preparing scallops, however.
First, place scallops between two layers of paper towels and pat them to remove excess moisture; wet scallops will boil rather than sear.
Second, it’s important to remove the part that is attached to the scallop—called the bit—as it can constrict during the cooking process and cause the scallop to become tough. To remove, grasp it between finger and thumb and give it a twist.
Finally, for absolute best results, sear scallops in a hot pan. Holding your hand just above the surface of the pan, you should be able to feel the heat radiating from the bottom. Add a bit of butter or oil and place scallops in the pan—don’t over crowd them—then let them be. Don’t shake them like Jiffy Pop and don’t poke them; just let them hang out and do their thing. After two of three minutes gently turn them with a pair of tongs and let the other side brown.
You know a scallop is cooked when the sides start to split vertically—you have a perfectly prepared scallop.
They are delicious on their own but they are wonderful added to chowders, pasta dishes, battered and deep fried, raw in sashimi... the list is endless.