Many of us order scallops when we dine out because, unlike chicken, we don't often cook them at home, preferring to entrust their cooking to professional chefs. But there's no reason to be daunted by the buttery bivalves -- they're as easy to cook as shrimp, and as special-seeming as lobster. Scallops add an elegant touch to soups, salads, pastas, and stews – and they're low in calories and fat.
Buying and Cleaning Scallops
Scallops are available in a variety of sizes, ranging from tiny marble-sized bay scallops to sea scallops bigger than silver dollars. They're also sold both fresh and frozen. Just because a scallop is in the fresh catch case doesn't necessarily mean it's a better choice than a frozen scallop: It may have been mishandled on its trip back to land, or have been previously frozen and defrosted. Be sure to smell the scallops before purchase; they should smell clean and sweet. If they have a strong fishy smell, give them a pass.
Scallops are quite perishable, so it's best to use them the same day you buy them, if possible. If you buy them frozen, they will keep in the freezer for up to three months. Frozen scallops are typically shucked; thaw them in the refrigerator overnight, rather than using the microwave.
If dealing with a scallop still in its shell, you'll need an oyster knife to pry the meat free. Make sure to remove the frill and black stomach sack before rinsing the scallop.
Once a scallop is shucked, it requires only a good rinse with cool water. While cleaning, make sure each scallop has been shorn of its side muscle, an oblong flap of tissue that's easily cut away. Pat the scallops dry before cooking.
One of the easiest ways to prepare scallops is to put them in the oven. Because scallops are so naturally creamy, you don't need to do much to them before cooking: A little garlic, white wine and lemon add up to elegance. In an oven preheated to 350 degrees, it takes a dozen scallops about 15 minutes to brown.
Pecans are another fun finish.
Remember those scallop choices at the seafood counter? One more choice you might face is between wet-pack and dry-pack scallops, which are also called day boat scallops. Dry-pack are the best pick for searing, a beautiful way to prepare scallops.
To sear scallops, season them with salt, pepper, and – if you're in the mood – cayenne pepper. Then fry them over high heat in an oil with a high smoke point, such as grapeseed oil (this is not a job for olive oil). Sear the scallops for 2-4 minutes on each side, taking care to ensure they don't cook in their own juices: If the oil cooks off, pour out the scallop juice and add more oil to the pan.
One of the great scallops classics is coquilles St-Jacques, a traditional French dish featuring white wine-poached scallops, topped with cheese and broiled til bubbly.
Even if you're working with a George Foreman grill, you can produce scallops that sing a summer tune. Just make sure the scallops are dry and cold when you cook them, and don't leave them on the grill too long: Overdone scallops are rubbery.
When putting scallops directly on the grill, cooling shouldn't take more than five or six minutes.
Browse dozens of scallop recipes.