October 29th, 2007

A lesson about scallops

Last night I was finally set to try a recipe from Padma Laskhmi’s new cookbook. I found the amchoor I needed. I bought my ingredients. I was ready to go. The recipe: Sea scallops with crushed peanuts and cucumber relish.

The scallops I bought at Publix were large and plump. We were looking forward to eating them but the outcome was not what D and I expected. The scallops were bitter. So bitter I only ate a couple.

Now, I’m not a frequent buyer of scallops but I have bought them in the past and never had they been this way. At first I wondered if I had done something wrong but after doing some research – thank you, Google – I think we found our explanation. The bitterness apparently is caused from the chemical treatment that scallops are given to retain natural moisture and increase their weight. (If this was the case with these, I feel seriously ripped off at $15.99/lb). For years, says our source, sea scallops have been treated with sodium tripolyphosphate which makes them look white and wet.

Needless to say the meal wasn’t very successful. The relish was good and I’m sure if it were paired with some sweet buttery scallops, it would’ve made a very nice meal.

I should’ve listened to my gut when I thought of going to Whole Foods or Casablanca for the scallops but I got lazy. Once again, there went my inner Food Network star, but I learned a valuable lesson about scallops. Next time I’ll drive the extra miles and ask for dry, chemical-free scallops. You live, you learn.

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7 Responses to “A lesson about scallops”

  1. You just reminded me that Ive wanted to hit up Casablanca since you posted about it but I still havent been yet. Thats on the “to do” list for this week.

    I am a HUGE scallop fan and eat/cook them a lot. I recently had an experience with scallops as well, but it turned out to be something that was just in my head. When you buy scallops, its always a good idea to get “dry” scallops if you can. Another thing youll want to look out for (or smell out for) is a fishy odor. If it smells like dead fish, it aint good. They should smell like the ocean, obviously, but without a strong fishy odor.

    To be honest though, finding sea scallops these days at $15.99/lb is a good deal. Milams used to occasionally have them on sale at $10.99/lb, but once Fresh Market moved in and started charging $19.99/lb Milams raised the prices as well. Now you can find them at Milams or FM for about $16.99/lb on a good day. I think I noticed in your pic from Casablanca that they were $9.99 which is a killer deal that Im going to take advantage of this week.

    If you really like scallops, I encourage you to go to Matsuri at Red Bird Plaza and try the “Hotate Yake”. They sautee the scallops in garlic and leave the corals on which taste incredibly good.

  2. In all honesty, how many scallops here are actually fresh and not previously frozen (I have a feeling most, including Casablanca)? And if they are fresh, which would be better, a scallop individually quick-frozen minutes after harvesting or a fresh scallop that’s been on a long trip down to Miami? Personally, I buy my scallops frozen (the ones at Costco are great), thaw them out in the fridge then dry them out as much as possible (sometimes between sheets of paper towels weighed down by a heavy plate for a few minutes). Granted, you lose something in the freezing but at least they’re not weighed down by water and chemicals and you can use them when you like. Otherwise, I agree with blind and you’ve got to take the time to look for dry ones.

  3. BM – I went back to my Casablanca post the day I wrote about the scallops to see if they were in the pictures and it did say $9.99 for sea scallops. If I’m not mistaken it also says Keys on the sign. Anyways, I learned my lesson.

    L2M – In my research I also read several people recommending frozen. It may be a better option when you can’t get them that fresh.

  4. Glad you found the amchoor!

  5. Doesn’t that suck when you’re so looking forward to a meal and it disappoints?

    I learned that sad truth about scallops when I was working on the Farallon Cookbook with Mark Franz. He brought these enormous diver scallops to the recipe testing one day, seared them and served them with a lobster broth and they were the best things I’ve ever tasted. When I asked him why I couldn’t get my scallops to brown like his, he told me about the whole chemical treatment thing.

    I agree, if you can’t find dry, dayboat or diver scallops, go with IQF (individually quick frozen) ones (still though, dayboat or diver will be freshest, one thawed).

    My fish guy at the farmers’ market just gave me an explanation of “day boat” that made me go, “duh. Why didn’t I realize that before?” He said that dayboats literally go out and back in a day, so their seafood gets back on the dock and distributed the same day. Boats that go out on longer trips can be out on the sea with fish (packed on ice) for several days before coming back to port.

    I’ve got an article on sourcing sustainable seafood on my blog here, and some of the sources sell IQF diver scallops.

  6. Swirlingnotions – Thanks for the article and the tips. Seemingly this lesson about scallops is one a lot of us have learned the hard way.

  7. wish I had read these earlier.. i thought i had ben poisoned.. i have never experienced bitterness in scallops before. glad i didnt cook them all! wiil def dry the rest out first. am so disapointed to have any waisted, bu live and learn..

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