Scallops: Sweet, Succulent and Lean Shellfish

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Scallops — like clams, oysters and mussels — are filter-feeding bivalve mollusks with two hinged shells, each with a retractable “foot” used for movement and burrowing. Scallops have the unique ability to propel themselves, albeit awkwardly, essentially by clapping their shells together and ejecting jets of water. The source of this power? A strong internal adductor muscle, which is the succulent “scallop” we find on our plates.

Being so small and low on the food chain, scallops generally are low in contaminants, toxins and heavy metals, such as mercury.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program considers farmed scallops a Best Choice and wild sea scallops a Good Alternative. The exception is diver-caught scallops from Peru, which consumers are advised to avoid.

In the Kitchen

The most common types of scallops include large, meaty sea scallops (about 1 to 11⁄2 inches in diameter), small and sweet bay scallops (about 1⁄2 inch) and hand-collected diver scallops (size varies, but these tend to be on the larger side). “Dry-packed” scallops often are preferred over “wet-packed” — the latter is preserved in a water-sodium tripolyphosphate mixture that subtly affects flavor and texture. However, “wet” scallops still can be enjoyed by first soaking in a homemade saltwater solution: 4 cups cold water, ¼ cup fresh lemon juice and 2 tablespoons salt.

Being a dense, lean muscle means scallops can quickly go from perfectly done to overcooked and rubbery, requiring as few as 11⁄2 to 3 minutes of cooking per side, depending on size and preparation method. To achieve a caramelized exterior and moist, tender interior when sautéing, dry scallops completely, avoid overcrowding the pan and cook undisturbed over medium-high heat until barely opaque and firm. Though safe to eat, the small crescent-shaped side muscle, if present, can be tough when cooked, so often it is removed and discarded.

With an innate sweetness, scallops need little accoutrement but can stand up to bold flavors such as bacon or earthy mushrooms. They’re often cooked and served atop pastas or risottos and in light soups or green salads. Scallops also can be sliced thinly and served raw as crudo, in sushi or atop shaved vegetables. Enjoyed worldwide, scallops shine when paired with bright citrus, fresh herbs and fruits, sweet butter or cream, smoky spices, and spicy, fragrant flavors of Southeast Asian cuisines.

In the Clinic

One 3-ounce serving of cooked scallops has approximately 94 calories and is a great source of phosphorus (362 milligrams) and protein (approximately 17 grams). A serving also offers more than 25 percent of the daily value of selenium and vitamin B12 and is one of the richest food sources of choline. Scallops provide smaller amounts of potassium, zinc and other B vitamins.

Very low in total fat, scallops offer some heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, including more than 100 milligrams per serving combined of the omega-3s eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid.

One serving of scallops provides about 567 milligrams of sodium.

In Quantity

Scallops are highly valued and therefore come at a premium cost, so be sure to purchase from trusted seafood markets, grocery stores or online purveyors. Fresh scallops should be plump, firm and moist with a sweet smell. If scallops are unmarked and a fishmonger is unable to provide packaging information, “dry” scallops will be a creamy off-white color, even faintly pink; “wet” tend to be bright pearly white. If fresh is not an option, frozen scallops are a convenient alternative and should have a similar taste and texture when cooked.

Like all fresh seafood, scallops are highly perishable and are best when eaten the day of purchase. Refrigerate as soon as possible, wrapped loosely with a damp cloth or paper towel over a bowl of ice for up to two days. Frozen scallops can be stored in the freezer for up to three months.

Scallops for foodservice come fresh or frozen in multi-pack cases, typically are dry-packed and are marked in the United States by count per pound. Sea scallops average 20 to 30 per pound; smaller bay scallops are as few as 70 to up to 120 per pound; and diver scallops range from 10 to 30 per pound. Although most often sold as meat only, shucked scallops can be sourced — at a premium — with their shells to use in food styling presentation.


Heather A. Goesch, MPH, RDN, LDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in maternal and general women’s nutrition in southeastern North Carolina. She is a Stone Soup blogger and author of heathergnutrition.com/modsblog.


Coconutty Corn Curry with Scallops

Developed by Michele Redmond 

Servings: 2
Serving size: 1 cup curry with 4 to 5 scallops (370 grams)
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 18 minutes

Ingredients

  • ¾ pound sea scallops (about 8 to 10 scallops)
  • 2½ tablespoons (40 milliliters) olive oil, divided
  • 2 shallots, cut in half lengthwise, thinly sliced (about ½ cup)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 13.5-ounce can (400 milliliters) light coconut milk
  • 1 cup no-salt-added canned corn kernels
  • 2 teaspoons (10 milliliters) fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon serrano pepper, cut in half lengthwise, thinly sliced
  • ¾ teaspoon turmeric

Directions

  1. Place scallops on a plate, gently dry with a paper towel and remove any side muscles. In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring periodically, for 2 to 3 minutes or until soft. Add ginger, garlic and coconut milk, stir periodically and simmer until thickened, about 6 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat to low, add corn and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Add lime juice and serrano and remove from heat.
  2. Place turmeric in a small bowl. Lightly press one flat side of each scallop into the turmeric to coat, then place scallops back on the plate with the spiced side up. Pour remaining turmeric into the curry and stir to combine.
  3. Add remaining olive oil to another medium skillet over medium heat. When close to smoking, after 1 to 2 minutes, add scallops spiced side down. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until a brown crust forms, then flip scallops with a spatula. Cook 1 additional minute until flesh is opaque and firm, then remove from heat. Divide curry into 2 bowls and top with scallops.

Nutrition per serving: CALORIES 508; TOTAL FAT 31g; SAT. FAT 11g; CHOL. 41mg; SODIUM 738mg; CARB. 36g; FIBER 5g; SUGARS 13g; PROTEIN 24g; POTASSIUM N/A; PHOSPHORUS N/A

Note: Nutrition information for potassium and phosphorus in light coconut milk not available.

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Heather Goesch

Heather Goesch, MPH, RDN, LDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist, freelance writer, recipe developer and nutrition consultant living on the southeastern coast of North Carolina. Read her blog for healthy, seasonal recipe inspiration, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or LinkedIn.