Scallops 101

One of my most popular cooking classes is “Fish without fear”. 

Quality seafood is expensive, and Lent is the optimum time to explore cooking seafood, since you’ll usually find a good variety at a decent price. 

When I teach a seafood class, I always include scallops, since students find them the most intriguing. Yet they are one of the easiest to cook!

Scallops are amazingly good, simply seared in a combo of butter and olive oil with just a bit of salt and pepper or seafood seasoning if you like. 

But here’s the deal: when you see scallops at the grocery, you’ll see both “wet” and “dry”. What does that mean? It’s the way scallops are harvested that makes the difference in taste, texture and, ultimately, price. 

Wet scallops 

Shucked on the boat, scallops are put into a container with cold water, which preserves them longer. This makes them absorb water and plump up, giving a lesser flavor than dry scallops and a bit tougher texture. 

Check to see how scallops were packed because a preservative or chemical salt added to the water to prevent them from spoiling may have been added. This prolongs the shelf life. It may or may not be a concern for you. 

Dry scallops 

Shucked on the boat, the scallops go into a dry container. No water, no preservatives. The flavor is pure. They have a shorter shelf life than wet but to me, are worth the price.

Size makes a difference

Regardless if they’re wet or dry, scallops are divided into 2 sizes: bay and sea.

Bay scallops are small, and typically from the shallow bay waters.

Sea scallops are larger, and harvested from deep, cold sea waters. 

Diver scallops refer to the method of harvesting. Instead of being dredged, they’re harvest by hand by divers. Labor intensive which affects the cost, as well.

Simple skillet seared scallops


Serves 4

12-16 large sea scallops – I prefer dry scallops

Salt and pepper or seafood seasoning

2 tablespoons each or more if needed olive oil and unsalted butter


Check scallops out. If they have a little band of muscle still attached on the side, remove that since it can cook up tough.

Pat scallops very dry with paper towels. This allows them to get a nice crust.

Season to taste.

Over high heat, add butter in skillet and let it start to turn golden.  Add olive oil and swirl to combine. Keep heat on high.

Put scallops in pan, don’t crowd, and shake pan to prevent sticking. Cook until brown on outside and barely opaque in center, about 2-3 minutes on each side.

Delicious as is served with lemon wedges. 

If you want to go full tilt, here’s a couple nice recipes to dollop on top.

Lemony gremolata

Stir together minced parsley, lemon zest and minced shallots to taste. Go easy on shallots.

Spicy lime mayo

Just mix about 1/4 cup each mayonnaise and sour cream with Dijon mustard, lime juice and cayenne or your fave hot sauce to taste.

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