What To Look For When Buying The Best Quality Scallops, According To An Expert

Cooking fresh scallops at home requires precision so that you don't accidentally overcook the shellfish and turn them rubbery. To avoid that culinary mishap, there are many tips you need when cooking with scallops, like knowing how to tell when they're fully done. But, before you turn the knob on your stove, it's essential to buy the highest-quality scallops available at the store first. To get some professional guidance on how to pick the finest scallops, Tasting Table turned to Sol Han, head chef at Little Mad, a New American restaurant in New York City that he opened in 2021.

"Scallops need to be firm, smell like the ocean, and need to taste sweet," Han says. To ensure you purchase the freshest and highest-quality scallops for your seafood dinner, it takes a few steps to get it right. "I would always recommend using all your senses, get gloves on and feel the firmness, and make sure you smell the scallop," he explains. The scallops should also have a nice yellow or orange color. If you cannot get your hands on the scallops, which are often found at the seafood counter at your grocery store or fish market, we recommend kindly asking a reliable fishmonger behind the counter to do the tests for you.

Size doesn't equate to quality with scallops

You might think that the quality of the mollusks hinges on their size, but that's not the case. "Size only depends on what you are doing with it," Han says. For guidance, bay scallops found in the shallow areas of the Atlantic are smaller, whereas sea scallops are harvested from deeper waters and can be much larger. The size of the shellfish does affect the price, however. "The sizing of the scallop is what's going to [determine] the price that you're going to pay for the scallop," Han explains. For example, he estimates quality diver scallops (another name for sea scallops) can be around $30 per pound.

Now that Chef Han has shared guidance on how to pick the best quality scallops and how much you might pay for them, it's time to cook! Consider Tasting Table's seared scallops recipe with olive oil and lemon juice for a versatile way to cook the shellfish to pair with a fresh salad or roasted vegetables. Or, for a more indulgent meal, try our shrimp and scallop scampi recipe that features a white wine sauce that will complement your freshly picked scallops.