What Are Sea scallops?

Learn the basics of this delicious shellfish, from what they look like to where they live, and most importantly: the best ways to cook them

Before throwing these beloved bivalves on the grill or completing the perfect pan sear, spend a moment mastering the basics of scallops, both bay and sea varieties. And after answering your *searing* questions about where these delicious shellfish come from and the best time of year to buy scallops, we’ll share our favorite bay and sea scallop recipes

Scallops are a type of bivalve mollusk, meaning the interior muscle is surrounded by two shells similarly to oysters, mussels, and clams. Inside the shell, sea scallops have a white adductor muscle (the part we eat) that opens and closes the shell, as well as a bright orange section called the coral. The muscle is round and tender when cooked, with both a touch of sweetness and briny saltiness. The coral is also edible, but is not typically consumed in the U.S. There are two types of scallops: Bay scallops and sea scallops. The bay variety are smaller (about the size of a dime) and more tender, while sea scallops are larger, growing as big as two inches

What Do Scallops Look Like?

The shell of a scallop has the classic fanned out shape so symbolic of maritime décor. But watch out: Unlike their other bivalve buddies, scallops can swim across the ocean floor—quite quickly!—by clapping their shells together. Scallops also have bright blue eyes. Yes, you read that right: Scallops have anywhere from 50 to 100 small, bead-like blue eyes along the edge of their shell’s opening that they use to detect dark, light, and motion. They even use their retinas to focus on light, similarly to human eyes

Where Do Scallops Come From?

Bay scallops are typically found in bays, estuaries, and shallow waters on the East Coast, living in the reedy seagrasses. Many scallops that are consumed in the U.S. are imported from China and Mexico, as their domestic populations have dwindled in recent decades. Efforts to reinvigorate the population of Chesapeake Bay scallops by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and founders of Rappahannock Oyster Company have shown great promise: In 2017, they brought down 400,000 scallop seeds from Falmouth, Massachusetts, and are refining their grow-out techniques for commercial harvests. You can also dive for these smaller mollusks in Northwest Florida from July to early October

Sea scallops are found in deep, cold ocean waters—up to 200 meters deep—around the world. In the U.S., they are typically caught in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, from Newfoundland to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina

When Is Scallop Season?

Scallops reach peak harvests during late fall and winter. They’re typically available year-round, but seek them out during the last few months of the year for the freshest catch

How to Cook Scallops

When cooking scallops, it’s important to note that methods differ slightly for bay and sea scallops. With sea scallops’ chewy texture, they lend themselves better to searing, in order to create a just-right crispy exterior. Sweeter, more delicate bay scallops cook quickly and are best for quick sautés, broiling, and gentle poaching. Grilling yields delicious results for both bivalves, just be sure to use skewers so as to not lose any precious scallops and to facilitate easy flipping. Always pat scallops dry before tossing on the grill, too. When prepared properly, both scallop varieties offer tender, sweet-yet-briny goodness and shine in dishes with simple preparation


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