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What are Scallops?

By Jane Harmon
Updated Nov 18, 2021
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Scallops are edible bivalves similar to oysters and clams. They are found both in bay waters and in the sea. In terms of texture they are somewhat similar to white fish and have a fairly sweet flavor that is ideal for many different dishes. Some people may be allergic to scallops, however, so anyone with previous allergies to mollusks or shellfish may want to avoid eating them.

Are Scallops Shellfish?

Shellfish include many varieties of marine animals that are either crustaceans or mollusks. Crustaceans include shrimp, prawns, crab, and lobster. Mollusks, or bivalves, include clams, oysters, scallops, snails, abalone, squid, and octopus. Mollusks and crustaceans are both types of shellfish, so scallops are a type of shellfish.

What Do Scallops Taste Like?

All of the scallop muscle is edible, and European eaters often enjoy them in their entirety like oysters. In the US, however, only the shell muscle is eaten and many Americans view these white cylinders of flesh simply as "scallops." The flavor is sweet and delicate, and is best served with a mild sauce of cream, cheese, or butter that does not overpower the subtle flavor of the scallop itself. They are used in many recipes similar to shrimp or clams in foods such as pasta dishes and appetizers.

How to Cook Scallops

As previously stated, scallops pair well with cream sauces or a simple butter sauce and pasta. But there are numerous ways to cook and prepare scallops that vary based on what type of scallop you’ve purchased. If you purchased shucked scallops, the scallops only need a rinse in cool water before cooking. If you purchased your scallops in their shell, there’s a bit more that goes into cleaning and preparing the scallops for cooking.

How to Clean Scallops

First, you’ll need an oyster knife to carefully pry apart the two outer shells. You’ll need to cut through the muscle and disconnect the top shell. This will allow you to open the shell and cut out the scallop. Remove the dark spots from the scallop and rinse in cool water. As you rinse in cool water, remove any side muscle that’s left around the scallop. Give the scallop one last rinse, and the scallop is now ready to cook. If you’re working with frozen scallops, there is a specific way that you should thaw frozen scallops.

How to Thaw Frozen Scallops

The best method to thaw frozen scallops is to thaw them overnight in the refrigerator. This brings them up to a temperature that is safe and easy to work with. If you forgot to place your scallops in the fridge and you’re in a time crunch, there is another way to thaw scallops.

First, remove the frozen mollusks from their packaging. Then place them in a strainer and run cold water over them for ten minutes. Check on the scallops after ten minutes of running cool water over them and continue to run water over them until they’re thawed. Once they’re thawed you can refrigerate them for up to forty-eight hours. Cooking frozen scallops can affect the texture and taste of the scallops, so it’s best to take time to thaw them before cooking.

How to Cook Scallops on the Stove

Scallops, like other types of fish, cook quickly. If you’re cooking them on the stove, you’ll need fat like oil or butter, simple seasonings like salt and pepper, and tools like tongs and a pan. Pat your scallops dry with a paper towel, then season with salt and pepper. Then you’ll need to heat your pan. Once you heat the pan to medium-high heat, you can add the oil or butter. Place one scallop to test the heat of the pan. If the pan is hot enough, the scallop should sizzle.

If the scallop sizzles in the pan, add more scallops to the pan without crowding them. The scallops will cook for about two minutes. You’ll then need to flip and cook for another two to three minutes. Cooking scallops on the stove is a simple way to prepare these delicious mollusks for your meal. If you don’t want to cook them on the stove, you can also cook them in the oven or on the grill.

How to Cook Scallops In the Oven

If you decide to cook your scallops in the oven, there is a simple and effective method to do so. Baked scallops can make a great addition to any dinner. First, you will need to set your oven to four hundred degrees, then prepare your scallops. Pat the scallops dry, then top with a mixture of your favorite seasonings or toppings. You can create a delicious mixture of melted butter, your favorite seasonings, bread crumbs, and parmesan cheese and add to your scallops before baking.

Toss the scallops in the prepared mixture or season with your favorite seasonings, then place in the oven. You’ll need to bake the scallops for about fifteen minutes, or until they’re opaque. You can also broil your scallops for a minute or two for a nice final touch. If you decide to cook your scallops on the grill, the process is simple.

How to Grill Scallops

First, heat your grill to medium heat. You’ll need to pat the scallops dry. Then, you can toss the scallops with your favorite seasonings or marinade. The scallops can be cooked directly on the grill grates or added to a skewer if they’re small. Grill on each side for two to three minutes or until the scallops are opaque in color. Try to avoid overcooking the scallops. If they’re overcooked, they can have a tough and chewy texture. There are numerous and delicious ways to eat scallops, if they’re prepared properly. You may even decide to eat your scallops seared, a method that leaves the center of the scallop creamy but slightly raw.

Can You Eat Scallops Raw?

Oysters and clams, which are mollusks too, are often eaten raw with only lemon juice or hot sauce. While eating anything raw carries some risk, countless people enjoy raw oysters and clams. Scallops are no exception. While you’ll commonly see seared scallops on fine dining menus, diners may not usually consider how the scallops are cooked. Usually, when you order seared scallops, your meal will come with a nice brown color on the outside of the scallop while the inside remains creamy and raw.

What to Serve With Scallops

As previously mentioned, scallops are versatile and pair well with pasta and sauces, but there are other side options as well. Scallops can also be enjoyed on top of a root vegetable puree or alongside your favorite vegetables like steamed spinach or broccoli. Because of the slightly sweet scallop flavor, white potatoes or rice make for excellent pairings for scallops. There are numerous ways to prepare scallops, and there are countless side options if health is a top concern for you.

Are Scallops Healthy?

Scallops are very low in fat and fairly low in calories; a single scallop typically has only about 30 to 35 calories. They are a source of unsaturated fat with omega-3 fatty acids, which are recommended for a healthy diet and provide a decent source of vitamin B12 and calcium. A single serving also includes a good amount of magnesium, iron, and zinc, which can be good for some people but may be a problem for individuals with certain illnesses or on some types of medication. Anyone with major dietary or health concerns should consult a healthcare professional with questions about seafood.

Allergy Concerns

As a mollusk, scallops can cause allergic reactions in some people. Anyone with an allergy to clams, oysters, or similar foods should avoid them or try only a very small piece. An allergy to crustaceans, such as lobsters or shrimp, does not necessarily indicate a mollusk allergy, though caution should be used by anyone with seafood allergies when trying something new. Replacements, such as white fish, can be used for many dishes, but can bother eaters with fish allergies.

Where Do Scallops Come From?

Scallops are both fished and "farmed" or cultivated in water for harvest. They do not attach themselves to a permanent anchorage, but move themselves through the water by opening and closing their shells. As a result, the muscle that controls the "hinge" of the shell is much larger than that of oysters or clams. Since they cannot survive out of water, they are shucked from their shells on board fishing boats.

Common Varieties

The bay scallop is much smaller than the sea scallop, and the edible muscle is usually about one half-inch (about a centimeter) or smaller in diameter. A sea scallop's muscle can be as large as two inches (about 5 centimeters) in diameter. Sea scallops are sometimes cut into smaller shapes to pass as bay varieties and some companies produce "faux" versions made from shark or stingray.

All in all, scallops are a versatile, simple, nutritious addition to any meal. Because of the wide variety of cooking methods and the mild, sweet flavor, scallops are generally a well-received menu item. Though the costs of scallops can vary by region, you can also buy frozen or fresh scallops from a local market near you.

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Discussion Comments
By anon998427 — On Jun 09, 2017

What class of animal do scallops come from?

By anon997238 — On Dec 01, 2016

Where would I find common scallops?

By anon223983 — On Oct 21, 2011

If I had an allergic reaction to bay scallops, would I have one to sea scallops as well?

By anon161450 — On Mar 19, 2011

scallops are really good fried! there's your health benefit! scallops are from stingray fish, not shellfish.

By anon135435 — On Dec 18, 2010

Why do scallops smell so bad when cooked? I used a first class caterer for a party and they lightly fried scallops in my kitchen as one of the appetizers. The scallops were very fresh but a funky fishy smell is still hanging on and won't go away. I've tried air freshener, etc. Is there some chemical in scallops that does this? I will appreciate any advice regarding this.

By arielpaige1 — On Dec 01, 2010

dear,fay, or anon352: it depends. some people say they are allergic to shell, crab, and shrimp, but can still eat scallops. i suggest you try a real tiny piece of scallop and eat it, but if you have a bad allergic reaction, you might not want to try this. you might be able to eat scallops. there are different vitamins in scallops than in other seafood. do you know what you are allergic to that is in the seafood?

By anon131226 — On Dec 01, 2010

Do scallops contain iodine?

By anon107285 — On Aug 29, 2010

Are scallops better for you broiled verses deep fried? I am allergic to shellfish also, but seem to be able to eat just a few scallops. And is it true some scallops can be artificially made from stingray?

By anon106234 — On Aug 24, 2010

Scallops are actually a very good source of a very important nutrient for cardiovascular health: vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is needed by the body to convert homocysteine, a chemical that can directly damage blood vessel walls, into other benign chemicals.

Four ounces of scallops contains 33.3 percent of the daily value for vitamin B12.

In addition to their B12, scallops are a very good source of omega-3 fatty acids and a good source of magnesium and potassium, three other nutrients that provide significant benefits for the cardiovascular system.

By anon85050 — On May 18, 2010

i think scallops are disgusting.

By anon72063 — On Mar 21, 2010

It varies depending on the person and their level of allergy.

I am allergic to lobster and shrimp with moderate reaction, but when I eat crab I might feel slightly swollen if I have dry lips, or I will just have no reaction at all.

I am able to eat scallops with the same reaction as I have with crab. If I have dry lips, I might have a very, very slight swollen feeling on my lip (nobody would ever be able to tell, except me). So, if you have a moderate or severe reaction to shellfish, I'd be cautious on taking a chance with scallops. FYI: My allergy is very mild.

By anon66148 — On Feb 17, 2010

I also am allergic to shellfish, but I can eat scallops without any problems.

By anon42746 — On Aug 23, 2009

I am allergic to shrimp, crabs but am able to eat scallops. Why is that?

By anon41493 — On Aug 15, 2009

Could you please confirm that there are 180,000 species of scallops to be found?

By anon37435 — On Jul 19, 2009

ANSWER to this question:

"are there any particular health benefits to eating scallops? personally, i think they're delicious in fettuccine alfredo! yum!!!"

If there any benefits..you just tossed them out the window with the Alfredo...

By anon26776 — On Feb 18, 2009

I am allergic to crustaceans but I can eat mollusks. Some people are allergic to both.

By anon12699 — On May 12, 2008

how are you guys able to fish with the green peace they might start to think that scallops are going to be extinct.

By anon12232 — On May 02, 2008

That is not true that you can eat scallops because they are mollusks and not shellfish, if you are allergic to shellfish. I am allergic to shellfish, but I cannot eat mollusks either. I wouldn't take the chance if I were you...

By anon10962 — On Apr 06, 2008

Scallops are mollusks, not shellfish. They can be eaten by people allergic to shellfish.

By anon8426 — On Feb 13, 2008

In response to questions, these are bivalve shellfish, class bivalvia - they are related to oysters. If you are allergic to shellfish then you shouldn't eat them.

By olittlewood — On Dec 28, 2007

are there any particular health benefits to eating scallops? personally, i think they're delicious in fettuccine alfredo! yum!!!

By anon4225 — On Oct 08, 2007

What would be the class of this animal?

By anon352 — On Apr 22, 2007

I am allergic to shell fish- shrimp, crab, lobster etc.

Would I be allergic to scallops?

Fay

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