See also shellfish.
Scallops are a type of bi-valve mollusk (clams, oysters, mussels) with two beautifully distinctive fan-shaped shells. While the entire scallop and roe are edible and relished by Europeans, the portion most commonly eaten in the U.S. is the eye, or adductor muscle, that hinges the shells together.
With a soft, fleshy texture, and a mildly sweet flavor, scallops can be prepared in any number of ways. They are often added to soups, stews and salads and are even enjoyed by those who are not usually fish or shellfish eaters.
Note: The term "scallop" can also refer to a thin, boneless slice of meat or fish (as in the French "escalope," or a layering of sliced foods in a casserole as in scalloped potatoes.
During the medieval era, pilgrims used empty scallop shells for eating and begging when visiting the shrine of St. James in Spain. In honor of the saint, the shells became known as the "shell of St. James," better known by their French name of "Coquilles St. Jacques."
There are many species of scallops, but they can be classified into two general groups: bay scallops and sea scallops. Bay scallops, generally found on the East Coast, are a tiny, ½-inch in diameter. They're sweeter and more succulent than bay scallops, and also more expensive because they're less abundant. Small, deep-sea calico scallops are often sold as bay scallops on the West Coast.
Sea scallops are less tender, but larger (1½ inches in diameter) and more widely available. Though slightly chewier, the meat is still tender and moist.
The peak season for fresh bay and sea scallops runs from October through March, while fresh calico scallops are available from December to May.
Scallops are extremely perishable so they are usually shucked, washed and frozen or packed in ice as soon as they are caught. Fresh scallops should have a sweet smell and a fresh, moist sheen. They may range in color from pale beige to creamy orange, but avoid those that are stark white. This is a sign that they have been soaked in water to increase their selling weight.
Frozen scallops are available year-round. They should be solid and shiny, and the inside packaging should be free of frost.
Cover and refrigerate fresh scallops immediately after purchase. Use them within one to two days. Scallops can also be wrapped in plastic and frozen for up to three months.