In Botticelli’s famed painting, The Birth of Venus, the goddess of love can be seen emerging from a giant scallop shell. Scallops, a feast for the eyes, also are a feast for seafood lovers.
Sweet and luscious scallops are bivalves (mollusks with two hinged shells). The entire scallop is edible, but it is the marshmallow-shaped muscle that hinges the two shells (called the nut) that is usually eaten. In Europe it is common to find live scallops with their bright coral reproductive organs still attached.
Lightly dredged in flour and seared quickly in a hot pan so the outside gets crisp and brown and the insides remain tender and creamy, scallops can be served with a sauce made in the same pan.
Although there are hundreds of species of scallops, only a handful are commonly available. The largest and most popular are sea scallops, primarily harvested in the Atlantic from Eastern Canada to North Carolina, but they also originate from Peru, Japan, and Russia. They are usually harvested year-round by dredging. Since they cannot hold their shells closed once they are out of the water, they are usually shucked on board and quickly lose their moisture.
Hand-harvesting sea scallops by divers is less destructive to the scallops. Known as diver scallops, these are much preferred to any other. Diver scallop season is from November to mid-April. The season for smaller bay and calico scallops runs from October through May. Pink scallops are harvested in Washington and British Columbia all year long.
Ask for dry sea scallops at the fish market. This means that they haven’t been soaked in a sodium solution that whitens and enlarges the scallops up to 50 percent. Not only are you paying for this unnecessary moisture, but when you cook them, all that liquid leaks out, making it impossible to get a good sear.
Store scallops in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Pat them dry with paper towels before frying; surface moisture impedes browning. Dredging them in Wondra flour promotes browning. .. Scallops add an elegant touch to a main dish salad.
Carole Kotkin is manager of the Ocean Reef Club cooking school and co-author of “Mmmmiami: Tempting Tropical Tastes for Home Cooks Everywhere.”