Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Scallops 101

The scallop market is about to take a big jump.  Word is that quotas are going to be cut up to 35% in some areas.  What this means is that it is going to get even harder to find high quality dry scallops.  What exactly a 'dry' scallop is, as opposed to divers, refresh, or treated, needs to be addressed first.

There are many different products at all kinds of prices available in the scallop market.  We at BlackSalt buy true dry scallops for our market and restaurants.  A dry scallop is a scallop that has never been frozen and has never been treated.  However, it is legal to sell a 'dry' scallop that has been treated with a saline solution and still call it 'dry' if it has been in the solution less than 24 hours.  The saline solution helps preserve the scallop and also adds water weight to the product.

We do not purchase these scallops at BlackSalt, but instead we look for true dry scallops only caught by day-boats like The Sea Ranger, whose captain is Ger Tonneson.  These scallops are landed in places like Maine and Massachusetts and come to us just hours out of the water.  What day-boat means is that these fishermen are allotted only so many pounds a day and once they hit that quota they return from the water with their harvest the same day that they set out.  This ensures that the scallops we purchase are the freshest product possible.  We pay a little more for this product, but we feel like the quality that is passed on to the customer is worth it.  When purchasing scallops that are labeled 'dry' it might be beneficial to ask whether there is a 24hr treatment on them, or just shop at BlackSalt where you don't have to ask.

Some scallops are packed treated or refreshed.  Treated scallops have a solution on them that increases shelf-life.  This is important for retailers, because the shelf-life on truly dry scallops is very short.  That is why rotation of product at our market is quick; truly dry scallops need to be fresh.  Other markets that sell treated scallops do not have to worry about turnover as much but, in my opinion, you can taste the difference.  A refreshed scallop is a product that has been frozen and then thawed.  Usually the flavor on these will be even less bright than treated or dry scallops and the color is usually a little grayish.  I can't in good faith recommend this product to anyone.  Truly dry scallops will have a fresh, sweet, ocean flavor without any lingering aftertaste.  A truly dry scallop will also give you a nice sear on a hot pan very quickly, where it takes a treated or 'dry' scallop a little longer to get that crispy brown, and in some cases it doesn't happen at all.

Sometimes you may see scallops that are pink or orange.  These to me taste the sweetest and should not be avoided.  The theory is that these scallops were females with red roe sacs.  The different color signals a sweeter scallop.  Stay away from scallops that appear gray, this is a sign of age and freezing.  Scallops naturally release gas so if you come across scallops that have been in a container and the first odor is of gas, do not send them packing into the garbage.  Give them a little air and time and that should go away.  When scallops smell sour or overly gassy, then its time to give up on them and look for new product.  Also, look to purchase scallops that are not broken and greasy.  Fresh scallops should be firm and a little tacky to the touch.

Wherever you decide to purchase scallops, make sure to check them out thoroughly and ask questions.  Scallops are always a good indicator of the quality of the market you are shopping in: the more questions that the fishmonger can answer and more pride they take in answering them, the better the market.

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