The versatile (and profitable) scallop

Photo by Mozy&Me

Pan-seared scallops with brown butter and capers

Check around the perimeter of the scallop for a slightly tougher, gristly white “foot” that can easily be removed.

1 lb. very fresh large sea scallops
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt, pepper and paprika to taste
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon capers, well-drained

Pat the scallops dry. This will help them sear. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed frying pan until shimmering and very hot. Add the scallops without crowding and cook for 2-3 minutes. Turn the scallops over, and brown on the other side. Remove from pan and keep warm. Serve with lemon wedges.

Add the butter to the pan and cook until it foams and begins to brown a bit and smell nutty. Stir in the lemon zest and capers, pour over the scallops and serve immediately.

Serves four as a first course.

March/April 2021

By Jean Kerr

There is some debate about New England scallops. Some aficionados swear by the small size and delicacy of bay scallops, the much sought-after catch often associated with Nantucket. But to my mind, the larger, plumper sea scallops take the prize for both flavor and texture. Whether pan-seared, baked, fried, broiled or sliced thinly as crudo or ceviche, the pure sweetness of these bivalves comes shining through.

And prized they are. The New Bedford, Mass., scallop fishery has made this the highest grossing fishing harbor in the U.S. for two decades.

Preparing scallops is a simple process, the main thing being not to overcook them. Short cooking times and high heat are your primary guidelines (if you’re cooking them at all, that is). In “Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop,” renowned forager Euell Gibbons talks about plucking scallops out of the sea, detaching the adductor muscle with his trusty knife and popping them in his mouth just as nature made them.

In other parts of the world, scallops are eaten whole, the orange roe wrapped around the creamy white muscle that we value so highly. Scallops in New England are shucked at sea as they are caught and immediately iced down. Day boat or diver scallops are prized for both their freshness and the lower environmental impact on the ocean floor as compared to dredging.

In addition to the orange roe, scallops have dozens of tiny blue eyes just inside the perimeter of their shell. Here’s another fun fact: Scallops are active swimmers. Unlike oysters or mussels, they can move at an almost alarming rate by opening and closing their shells like maracas.

When choosing scallops, look for white, slightly translucent scallops, and look for the ones labeled “dry.” This means that there haven’t been liquids added (like trisodium phosphate) as a preservative and to bump up the weight of what you’re buying. Although COVID-19 precautions may prevent your supermarket fish counter from letting you smell them, I have no compunction about asking to do just that. Scallops, like most seafood, should have a fresh ocean smell. If seafood smells fishy, give it a pass. Scallops are sized by the number of units per pound. U-10 or -12 scallops are the big boys, meaning that there are fewer than 10 to 12. The diminutive bay scallops weigh in around 100 per pound.

The two lobstermen I know who used to scallop during the winter swear by just baking the scallops with a cracker crumb crust and a generous amount of butter. From the most basic scallop baked with cracker crumbs, to five-star preparations, there are few rules. Buy the freshest local catch you can find, don’t overcook them, and let their natural succulence shine through.

Jean Kerr is the author of four cookbooks, all related to New England and the sea. She is the former editor of “Northeast Flavor” magazine. She has been sailing, cooking and writing about food for more than 30 years.