Thursday, November 11, 2010
The quality of scallops from UK waters is frequently excellent: mild, sweet flavoured morsels with a satisfyingly firm, yet fine, texture are widely sold by quality fishmongers.
European cuisine often matches scallops with robust ingredients such as bacon or watercress. We love them with Oriental flavours such as ginger, chilli or lemongrass.
Archaeological findings show that scallops have been eaten by humans for thousands of years, although until the advent of modern fishing techniques (scallops are usually found on seabeds) they formed a small part of the diet of opportunistic seaside foragers.
Today a number of species are found in waters around the world and scallops are esteemed in seafood-eating cultures everywhere. UK waters are a source of very fine scallops and some of the best are found off the coast of western Scotland, where commercial scallop fishery took off in the 1930's.
Throughout Europe scallops are mostly harvested by dredging. Aquaculture production (scallop farming - common in China and Japan) is increasing as techniques and yields improve and wild stocks decline. There is also a growing market for hand-dived specimens.
Scallops (like mussels and oysters) are bivalve molluscs. The 'great scallop' familiar to Europeans is Pecten maximus. It is found on sandy or muddy sea beds and feeds by filtering microscopic organisms from the surrounding sea water. Most scallops are hermaphrodites and spawn twice a year.
The edible part of the scallop is the pale adductor muscle and orange roe (coral). The muscle is used to rapidly open and close the scallop's two beautiful fan-shaped shells enabling it to propel itself by expelling water.
Scallops are rich in vitamin B12, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and copper. They are also an excellent source of protein, phosphorus and selenium.
Scallops are usually sold removed from their shells as, unlike mussels or oysters, only part of the scallop is eaten. Look for plump, firm, moist scallops with a sweet aroma. Some scallops are soaked in water; this increases their weight but impairs flavour and texture. Unsoaked scallops should be creamy or slightly off-white; soaking tends to produce overtly white scallops.
Choose (pricier) hand-dived scallops if you want to support a more environmentally-friendly and sustainable fishing method; dredging tends to damage the sea bed.
Scallops are highly perishable and should be refrigerated as soon as possible after purchase in an airtight container. They are best enjoyed the same day but will keep for a couple of days. Scallops freeze fairly well - this causes some loss of moisture and flavour but previously frozen scallops are still excellent in soups or stews.
Cooking scallops to perfection takes some skill (or luck) as over-cooking can quickly result in tough scallops. Scallops are cooked when the the flesh is opaque and just firm. Slicing scallops into two thinner discs can help by aiding uniform cooking and is recommended for particularly big scallops.
Scallop shells feature concentric rings. One ring forms each year, so the number of rings on the shell indicates the age of the scallop.