Scallops: Should You Buy Wet or Dry?

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One is definitively better—and tastier—than the other. Read on.

| By Lisa McComsey |

As with many food purchases these days, buying scallops isn’t as easy as, well, buying scallops. There are a couple of varieties available and it’s important to know the difference.

It all boils down to if and how the scallops are treated:

Wet (or soaked or treated) scallops are bathed in a chemical solution called sodium tripolyphosphate (STTP), which gives them a firmer, smoother, glossier appearance. STTP keeps scallops moist, increases their shelf life, and—because the liquid is absorbed, causing scallops to expand by almost 30 percent—makes them fatter.

But, if buying by the pound, you end of paying for water weight. That liquid eventually evaporates during the cooking process—leaving the scallops smaller, gummier, and less flavorful than their untreated (or dry) counterparts.

STTP turns scallops opaque white and has a bitter chemical flavor that soaks into the flesh and doesn’t cook out.

One word: yuck.

Dry (or natural) scallops are spared the phosphate bath, have a slightly pink or off-white hue, taste sweet and natural—not chemically—and caramelize beautifully when seared. Plus, you get what you pay for: just scallops, not water weight.

Not sure what you’re buying? Ask your fishmonger. Barring that, The Splendid Table has a quick test you can do at home to determine if they’re wet or dry: Microwave one scallop on a paper towel on a plate for 15 seconds. If the scallop is wet, you’ll notice a discernible ring of water around the scallop. If dry, little moisture will be released. Regardless of the result, you can still cook the scallop.

Another good trick from The Splendid Table: To cover up the chemical flavor of wet scallops, soak them for 30 minutes in a concoction of 1 quart of cold water, ¼ cup of lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons of salt for 30 minutes.

Bottom line: When faced with the choice to buy wet or dry scallops, buy dry every time.

What are your scallop-buying experiences? Let us know in the comments section below.

Photo by TK.