There’s something a little miraculous about bay scallops. The light, sweet, sea-tinged aroma of them fresh from the market makes me want to pop one in my mouth. And unlike most shellfish, there’s nothing to peel, slice or shell — these succulent morsels of pure ocean flavor make themselves immediately available, sliding right into your bowl or pan deliciously, adorably whole.
While bay scallops’ larger cousins, sea scallops, are best for meaty, knife-and-fork dishes, bay scallops are a casual ingredient that often shines brightest as part of a soup, salad or quickly sautéed dish. They are creamy and sweet, versatile and elegant, but easy to prepare on the fly. Don’t overcook them, and you can’t go wrong in just about any recipe you use them in.
The part of the scallop that we eat is the muscle that hinges the shell, opening and closing it. Bay scallops range from about the size of a nickel to the size of a quarter, although some diminutive varieties may be smaller than a pinky nail.
Get the recipe: Bay Scallop Nachos with Black Beans and Corn opens in a new tab
6 Tips on Getting the Most Out of Scallops
Freshness is paramount with scallops. If possible, use them the same day you buy them. To keep them for a day or two, cover a bowl of ice with a few layers of kitchen towel, place the scallops in a sealed bag on top, then cover everything with a another towel and refrigerate; pour off melted ice every few hours.
Rinse scallops well under cold water just before you cook them; small cracks on the surface of the scallop can harbor sand and grit.
Bay scallops should be ivory to beige in color and somewhat translucent. A tag of white, fibrous looking flesh on the side of the scallop can be a bit tougher than the rest of the scallop, so you can remove it for perfection (or leave it on — if I’m in a hurry I don’t fuss with this).
If you’re searing scallops, always pat them dry first. And they can release a lot of liquid so don’t overcrowd your pan. Work in several batches if you must.
Bay scallops need very, very little cooking, so err on the side of undercooking them; they’re done when they turn white and opaque with just a hint of translucence at the center. This can be as little as 1 minute in a screaming-hot pan, 1 to 2 minutes in boiling water, or a few minutes submerged in broth or gently poached in sauce.
You can substitute bay scallops for shrimp and calamari in many dishes. Just remember to adjust cooking times as bay scallops cook exceptionally quickly.
I first got to know bay scallops as the main ingredient in classic lime juice-cooked ceviche. Their fresh, sweet-briny flavor shines through absolutely brilliantly in ceviche, and I find that they remain more tender than any other shellfish after acid cooking. Tropical Scallop and Mango Ceviche opens in a new tab is a terrific recipe for them, or you can substitute scallops for the small shrimp used in this Quick and Spicy Shrimp Ceviche opens in a new tab.
Bay scallops are a classic in seafood salads, and with good reason: They’re irresistible paired with a few crunchy or silky vegetables, dressed with a bright vinaigrette, and chilled. Their flavor and texture is superb in this Seafood Salad with Bay Scallops, Shrimp and Calamari opens in a new tab medley, or use them in place of shrimp in this Asian Baby Shrimp Salad with Sesame Dressing opens in a new tab by steaming them for 1 to 2 minutes and cooling them in cold water before adding them. Substitute bay scallops for calamari in this Southwestern Calamari Salad opens in a new tab, perfect for a picnic or potluck.
Succulent bay scallops are ideal for pasta dishes, releasing a good amount of juice as they cook to coat noodles and blend their flavor with the ingredients around them. Bay Scallop Linguine with White Wine and Parsley opens in a new tab is a delicious, classic treatment that’s easy enough for weeknights. You can also adapt just about any shrimp or calamari pasta recipe for scallops; Calamari Pasta opens in a new tab, featuring fresh tomatoes and lots of garlic, is a perfect recipe to swap-in bay scallops for all or part of the calamari.
Bay scallops’ tender, toothsome texture is terrific in soups, and their natural one-bite size makes them one of my favorite additions. I love them in bouillabaisse, bourride and other mixed seafood soups. This Seafood Soup with Kale and Potatoes opens in a new tab calls for larger sea scallops, but substituting 1 pound of bay scallops would be an ideal way to enjoy it. And New England Seafood Chowder opens in a new tab is a not-to-be-missed classic chowder that is brilliant with scallops as a substitute for the white fish; just decrease the final cooking time by a few minutes so that your scallops stay as plump as possible.
I love seafood risotto, and scallops are one of the most luxurious additions I can think of. Start with this Seafood Risotto with Squid, Scallops and Shrimp opens in a new tab as a base, and you could even use all scallops in place of the other seafood. Scallops cook so quickly you can even add them with the last full addition of broth in just about any risotto recipe; try 1/2 pound of them in Risotto with Asparagus opens in a new tab, adding them a few minutes before the rice is tender.
And finally, I can’t resist drawing attention to this recipe: Bay Scallop Nachos with Black Beans and Corn opens in a new tab. The scallops roast with aromatics in a hot oven to concentrate their flavor creating a new comfort-food classic.
Got a bay scallop favorite? Tell us about it!