A Love Letter to Scallops, the World's Most Perfect Food

Plus, Recipe Resident Melina Hammer shares some of her favorite ways to prepare them in each season.

December 22, 2020
Photo by Melina Hammer

Over the years, I have decided that scallops are a favorite special occasion food that doesn’t, as it turns out, require too much work to make delectable. Before this realization I was kind of lukewarm when it came to these bivalves. The truth is—and I say this to everyone, so forgive me if you’ve heard it before—that anything we really don’t like is probably a food scar. Someone prepared the thing poorly, often under- or over cooking it, and it is up to us to come to terms with that reality and charge forward: brave and hopeful that there can be a fantastic experience to be had, just around the corner. This approach has served me well over time and scallops have been firmly in my “passionate about” department ever since.

Scallops swim using an adductor muscle, which clicks their two iconic shells together, propelling them through the water at the ocean floor. It is this meaty muscle that when shucked, appears in dining rooms and frying pans around the world to great delight. Male scallops are only white, but female scallops’ adductor muscles turn a rosy hue when spawning, and are sought after by chefs and savvy home cooks for their sweeter, richer flavor.

When scallops are harvested by boat, it’s usually a fishing vessel with an enormous chain mail mesh pouch that gets lowered into the ocean by pulleys, and then dragged—or dredged—across the ocean floor. Scallops harvested in this way are referred to as dayboat scallops, since often the vessel is out only for a day. The tricky part with this fishing method is that there is often considerable bycatch—unintended species, also trapped inside the pouch, who perish in the harvesting process.

Dayboat scallop fishing off the coast of the Atlantic in the U.S. is said to be slightly less harmful, since the ocean seabed there is more frequently disturbed by natural wave action and the current, which cannot support sensitive seabed species and habitats. If this factor is important as you source scallops, know that any scallop dredge fishery hoping to be viewed as sustainable must show evidence that it operates this way.

Another way in which scallops are harvested, and a real sustainable method, is what is known as diver scallops. Exactly as it sounds, these scallops are hand-harvested by scuba gear-clad divers from the shallows so as not to disturb the ocean floor’s ecosystem and sea bed habitat. These scallops are the premium choice, and are always dry packed, so no additional fluid dilutes their flavor when cooked. They do cost more, but know that your dollars support a smart, sustainable harvest process and get you the freshest, plumpest meat possible.

You can enjoy scallops any number of ways. Here is a series of seasonal preparations I have prepared for guests at our Hudson Valley bed and breakfast, Catbird Cottage. Some absolute favorites will be included in my forthcoming cookbook, so that everyone can revel in this love affair.


First, two spring-feeling crunchy salads incorporating creamy avocado, which pairs beautifully with burnished scallops. The first of these salads features colorful radishes, shaved fennel, and crunchy flake salt.

The second, one of my all-time favorite recipes, with avocado, celery and parsley leaves, and capers.


Here's a celebration of summer full of seasonal bounty, including purslane, corn sauce, and nasturtium flowers.


Scallops with Castelvetrano olives, pasta, and dill: it's a summer-into-fall dish to inspire.

Transition fall into winter using cold-weather fruits (such as pomegranate and persimmon) in a lush, yet still refreshing ceviche.


This warming bouillabaisse is perfect for winter, and tastes powerfully of the sea.

And finally, rich, creamy beans scented with saffron and topped with tender seared scallops and bright dill.

What's your favorite scallop preparation? Let us know in the comments.

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Melina is the author of 'A Year at Catbird Cottage' with Ten Speed Press. She grows an heirloom and pollinator garden and forages wild foods at her namesake Hudson Valley getaway, Catbird Cottage. Melina loves serving curated menus for guests from near and far seeking community amidst the hummingbirds, grosbeaks, finches, and the robust flavors of the seasons.