Range & Habitat: All varieties can be found on the Atlantic coast of the United States. As well, scallops are imported from places like Peru, Iceland, and parts of Asia. The American West coast is also home to sea scallops which are cultivated in California and the Puget Sound.
Identification & Biology: Living in shells anywhere from 7 to 12 inches in width, Sea scallops have two small wings near their hinges. The shells may have reddish stripes or may be a solid off-white. Inside the shells are the white abductor muscle (the meat of the scallop), its pale orange reproductive glands, its eyes (all 50 of them), gills, and digestive apparatus. Bay scallops have shells from 2 to 3 inches in width; Calico scallops are the tiniest and most attractive scallop of all with a mottled shell.
Market Description: Depending on where you buy your scallops and which type you buy, scallops are sold at different degrees of “undress.” American fisher people usually shuck scallops while on board their boats, leaving only the abductor muscle to market (this muscle is what we commonly think of as the scallop itself and is the meat we eat). Scallops can also be sold with their reproductive glands left attached. This is more common with European scallops whose roe are a more appealing bright red; the American scallop’s roe is usually a dingy orange. Shucked scallops sold in markets are white in color, about an inch across and 3/4 to 1&1/2 inches high.
Sold as: Almost exclusively just the small white abductor muscle, but increasingly (especially if of the European variety) with its bright red roe. They are also available in the shell but this is rare.
Buying tips: Buy scallops in the shell if at all possible and shuck them yourself (easily done with a sharp paring knife). Scallops are usually still alive if they’re in the shell, and while they may be expensive, they’re guaranteed to be fresher. In order to keep pre-shucked scallops fresh, retailers and fisher people often soak them in water (sometimes mixed with preservatives to prolong the shelf-life). Soaked scallops (labeled “wet” by honest retailers) are usually shiny and pure white. “Dry” scallops (those that haven’t been soaked) range in color from tan to yellow to off white and are fresher; consequently they are more expensive. Wet scallops also stick together in a single mass while dry scallops remain separated. Quick-frozen scallops are also available. Often these scallops retain much of their freshness as they were frozen immediately upon shucking.
Best cooking: Scallops can be eaten raw, sliced into disks of about 1/6th of an inch, and served with lemon wedges and salt or with a Japanese dipping sauce such as soy sauce with wasabi. Scallops can also be sautéed, grilled, boiled, poached, or breaded and fried. They are best when cooked briefly; overcooking will toughen them.