Ever since Botticelli painted “The Birth of Venus,” scallop shells have been a metaphor for beauty. But the real appeal of these mollusks is the sweet, meaty morsel inside. Scallops are found in every ocean and most cuisines throughout the world, from decadent gratinéed French coquilles St. Jacques to the intensely pungent, sweet dried scallops used in Cantonese dishes. They work well with most cooking methods and have special affinities with white wine, bacon, thyme, ginger, mushrooms, peanuts, lime and garlic.
Live scallops in the shell are a rare treat and should be eaten raw or cooked simply. “There’s nothing better than scallops cooked whole on the grill,” says Chef José Andrés, who recently opened two seafood restaurants, Miami’s Bazaar Mar and Maryland’s Fish. “I also love to use raw bay scallops in a ceviche with lime and fresh or dried [chilies].”
How To Buy Scallops
Live scallops should be eaten the day they’re purchased. When buying shucked scallops, ask for “dry” scallops. “Wet” scallops have been soaked in a phosphate solution to preserve and whiten them, but it also dilutes flavor and detracts from the dense, meaty texture.
- Scallops have tiny eyes—sometimes more than 100— that line their shell edge.
- The scallop is the symbol of the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James in Spain.
- Scallops can produce pearls, but they lack the luster of those from oysters.
- A scallop shell is featured in the coat of arms of Winston Churchill and the Spencer family of Princess Diana.
- Because they are active swimmers, scallops are the only migratory bivalves.
Scallops have a natural richness that demands high-acid wines. “Grilled and seared scallops have awesome caramelization, and pairing with a just off-dry Chenin Blanc is incredible,” says Andy Myers, wine director for José Andrés’s Think Food Group. He recommends Domaine Huet’s 2009 Le Haut-Lieu Demi-Sec Vouvray from the Loire Valley. “It is a bit oxidized, which plays off the caramelized notes, a bit sweet to accentuate the sweetness of the scallop, and the acid cuts the richness perfectly.”
For raw scallops, Myers looks to Galicia. “I love pairing raw scallops with a briny Albariño, like the 2015 Veiga Serantes [from Rías Baixas]. The hints of ocean spray capture the scallop’s natural flavor, and the high acid cuts through its rich texture.”