Scallops, like the clams, oysters and mussels are bivalves which means they have 2 shells that close together. They can be found on the Pacific and the Atlantic coast but the Atlantic version is more popular and of better quality. Although there are over 400 different species they can be broken down into 2 major types, the bay and the sea scallop. The sea scallop has a life span of about 20 years but the bay only lives about 20 months. The bay scallop has a shell up to 3 inches wide and meat about ½ inch wide and a size and shape similar to a miniature marshmallow. The bay is the best tasting of the two and is harvested in shallow water from Cape Hatteras to Florida. The sea scallop has a shell that can grow up to 8 inches wide with meat up to 2 inches and the shape and size of a large marshmallow. They are harvested in deep water from Labrador to New Jersey.
The shape of the shell has been used as Shell oil company’s symbol for years. Scallops are rarely sold in the shell because of their poor keeping quality, but if you do get them that way just place them in a 300 degree oven until they open. Right before cooking rinse them under cold running water to remove any shell fragments. When buying fresh, they should have a fresh sweet smell. Older ones will have a grayish color and a milky liquid. Whether they are fresh or frozen they should not have much liquid. Scallops without additives are called dry packed. If the term wet pack is used it means sodium tripolyphosphate has been added. This is added to make the scallop absorb moisture before freezing, thus reducing the final price by increasing the weight. If the wet packed scallop is treated too much, the meat can become mushy and lose too much liquid during cooking making it difficult to sear properly. Top quality scallops should be dry, firm hand hold their shape. Fresh ones can be kept for 1-2 days in the refrigerator and frozen ones placed in the freezer for up to 2 monthsThe sea scallop generally has a white meat and the bay can range from white to pink or tan. They both have a mild sweet taste and are a lean meat that is low in salt. Check this link for the best ways to cook scallops is to bake, broil, grill, saute, poach, deep fry or steam. For tips on cooking see, HOW TO COOK SCALLOPS