What Are Scallops and What Do They Taste Like?

Updated: Jul. 05, 2023

These pillowy white shellfish sure turn a regular dinner into a delicate delight, but what are scallops, exactly?

Scallops—you’ve probably seen them on restaurant menus that boast succulent seafood options. If you’re a seafood lover, chances are you ordered the scallops. If you’re not a huge seafood fan, you probably avoided the dish (we promise, they’re way more approachable than you’d think!). Either way, we’re here to answer what you really want to know: What are scallops, exactly?

What Are Sea Scallops?

Sea scallops are a type of bivalve mollusk that are in the same family as mussels, oysters and octopus. The scallop itself is the meaty part of the mollusk; that’s what you’ll see on your dinner plate. It is located between two shells (much like a clam), which open and close by the movements of the scallop. It’s essentially like one big muscle. They are usually pink or off-white and live in the colder waters of the ocean floor.

You’ll see some scallops labeled as diver scallops. This means the scallops have been sustainably harvested by hand—scuba divers dove for them versus a boat that trawled and scraped the ocean floor.

While sea scallops might be the most recognizable on a plate in a high-end seafood restaurant, smaller bay scallops also exist. They look more like large pearls than medallions of meat and they’re often more tender.

Wet Vs. Dry Scallops

“Wet” and “dry” scallops don’t refer to a type of scallop or its preparation for a meal, but rather how the scallop has been preserved post harvest. This distinction is important to know if you’re shopping for scallops at your local grocery store.

Wet scallops will have a plump, glossy look. They are more plump looking because they retain more water from the artificial preservatives used after harvesting. The preservatives result in rubbery scallops that are difficult to sear (the most tantalizing part of cooked scallops!).

Dry scallops are the key to briny, sweet, perfectly-seared scallop dishes. Preserved through shucking, cleaning and flash freezing nearly right after being caught, dry scallops are able to retain their natural moisture. They won’t look as plump and shiny as wet scallops, but they’ll taste way better. You can also order them frozen from seafood companies that practice sustainable fishing. Purchasing frozen dry scallops means they’ll remain at peak freshness until you’re ready to cook them.

How to Cook Scallops

Cooked Scallops Gettyimages 1132433841Lisovskaya/getty images

You’ll want to cook wet scallops and dry scallops differently. For that beautifully recognizable caramelized texture, searing dry scallops is the way to go. Pat out the excess moisture before pan searing. Taking out the moisture will give you the golden, crispy-topped scallops you thought you’d only get at a fancy seafood restaurant.

Use wet scallops in recipes that don’t call for a seared texture. Wet scallops are better used in baked recipes, like a seafood lasagna.

What Do Scallops Taste Like?

Averse to the smell of seafood? Then you’re in luck when it comes to scallops. Ocean-y, slimy, fishy scents are nowhere to be detected when it comes to this delicate meat. Scallops are salty and sweet, light in texture, and almost buttery when you bite into them. A good scallop will be rich and barely need any accoutrements to bring out its flavor.

Excited to cook this delicious shellfish at home? These are the scallop recipes we cannot get enough of.

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