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The cream of the sea, and how to pair it!
As the summer heat starts to strangle us, all I can think about is being by the water. Cool ocean breezes, sparkling sea spray, and that salty maritime air seem like the perfect balm to a sticky New York City summer.
And what can be more perfectly beachy than a plate of scallops, seared to perfection!
Scallops are a type of mollusk and belong to a subsection called bivalves – creatures that have two hinged shells. These include oysters, clams, and mussels.
Scallops can only live in heavily salinized water, so they are found at deep levels of the ocean. You won’t find any “freshwater scallops.”
The part that we eat is only the “adductor muscle,” which is used to open and close the shell. That is why it’s so meaty.
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Sustainable and Eco-Friendly
That’s right! Your favorite seafood is actually one of the healthier options, both for you and the environment.
Scallops are over 80% protein. (Keto dieters, heads up!)
Even better, they are a sustainable seafood choice since they are responsibly harvested, in the US especially. The scallop species we eat are not on the endangered species list.
So, eat without guilt!
Bay Scallops vs. Sea Scallops
A quick note on the difference between bay and sea scallops, since you may encounter a choice when preparing for your seafood feast.
- Size: Atlantic sea scallops (also known as “diver scallops”) live deep in the ocean and can reach up to 9 inches in length! Those are the big scallops marked “wild” in your fish market. The part you eat usually averages around 2 inches.
- Range: Sea scallops can come from Japan, South America, New Zealand, Ireland, and Canada.
- Meat: Sea scallop meat is chewy, sweet with a hint of brine
- Season: Diver scallops are harvested year-round.
- Cooking Method: Poached, Seared, Grilled
- Size: Bay scallops, in general, live in slightly shallower water and are smaller, averaging around 4 inches in length. The adductor muscle can be anywhere from a ½ inch to 1 inch.
- Range: Bay scallops come from the east coast of the United States, usually New Jersey or Florida.
- Meat: Bay scallop meat is more tender, delicate, and sweet.
- Season: Peak season for bay scallops is fall.
- Cooking Method: Poached or quick sauté
Most farmed scallops now come from China.
A Quick Note on Wet vs. Dry Scallops
If you’ve ever shopped at a fish market, I’m sure you’ve seen the signs for “wet” or “dry” scallops.
This is a simple designation for how they were handled for shelf life.
Wet scallops are soaked in a solution or water and sodium tripolyphosphate to preserve their moisture and shelf life.
Dry scallops haven’t been treated this way. They have less water weight and are (and taste) fresher.
When in doubt, it’s always best to buy dry scallops. Wet scallops can have an off-taste if not brined.
General Wine Tips for Pairing with Scallops
Scallops have a surprisingly delicate flavor for a meaty shellfish. The taste is similar to lobster with a buttery sweet side, although there is definitely a hint of brine in some sea scallops.
They are softer and more tender than mussels or clams. But like other shellfish, you can (and should) eat them raw!
Because scallops are so delicate, it’s wise not to pair them with heavy wines, deep full-bodied reds, or anything high in tannins.
Like most shellfish, they go exceptionally well with whites and sparkling wines. (Even a light Chardonnay works well since scallops have a creamy texture. If you’re making scallops in a cream sauce, definitely try a Chardonnay to pair!)
Scallops can also stand up to a few heavier flavors like bacon or raspberry glaze. With those sorts of dishes, a rose or even a light-bodied red can pair beautifully!
White Wines for Scallops
A classic pairing: white wine and scallops.
The peppy and zesty wines bring out the summery flavor and rich texture of the meat.
And since you can cook scallops in so many ways, you’re sure to find a white to go with any recipe you can imagine!
There is nothing like a crisp Sauvignon Blanc and a delicately cooked scallop. The herb-tinted wine mixes well with briny shellfish. Elizabeth Spencer creates a refreshing and fruity wine. There is plenty of acidities and tart lemon combined with ripe rich grapefruit and pear. The hints of ginger and minerals make this a perfect pairing with a Thai-style scallop dish! Keep this bottle around for any summer parties you throw. It’s bound to be a crowd pleaser!
Scallop Recipe to Pair: Thai Sweet Chili and Orange Scallops
White wine from Rutherford · United States. The palate offers a vibrant, quenching acidity and provides structure for flavors of tropical fruits, apricot, and a citrus mèlange, with the slightest hint of minerality to provide an intriguing counterpoint.
There’s a bright orange sting to this wine’s acidity, coming up behind the peaches-and-cream flavors. It’s as rich as meringue, and a little warm with alcohol, needing shellfish in a cream sauce to stand up to its weight.
Spanish wines are undeniably sexy, especially in the summer months. Ophalum is a really top-notch Albariño, you wouldn’t even realize it was less than $20! It is tart and dry with notes of pear, lemon, and peach reaching through. Ophalum is from the Rías Baixas coast of Spain, where they also harvest shellfish. The ocean breezes are captured in the bottle as hints of salinity and brine drift through. This is an absolutely perfect wine to pair with scallops to really draw out all the brine flavors and cut the richness.
Scallop Recipe to Pair: Pan Seared Scallops with Creamy Lemon Caper Sauce OR Scallop Ceviche
Peppy and zingy, Vinho Verde pops with zest and flavor. It’s a perfectly crisp wine to drink by the water…or in your apartment thinking about the water. Alvarinho is a Vinho Verde from Portugal that’s full of intense apple, peach, and pineapple flavors. But the sharp acidity is never lost and pierces through with lemony notes. It’s perfect to pair with citrus scallops or to cut heavy flavors like garlic.
Scallop Recipe to Pair: Lemon Garlic Scallops with Toasted Nuts
Reds and Rosé Wines for Scallops
I was in a wine store last week looking for a bottle of something sparkly for a feast. As the shop owner and I chatted through the menu he remarked: “Well, Rosé goes with everything.”
And he couldn’t be more right.
If you are looking for a wine to pair with a heavier scallop recipe, look no further than a rosé or a light-bodied red!
A nose of grapefruit and flowers is followed by a soft palate that is clean and fresh, hints of raspberry, red currant, and lemon zest. While it is supported by acidity, Côte des Roses finishes on mineral and herb notes, making it perfect for pairing with any shellfish.
Scallop Recipe to Pair: Scallop Salad with avocado and summer fruits and a raspberry vinaigrette
Deep, bright-hued red. Fresh red berry and rose oil scents pick up suggestions of cola and allspice as the wine opens up. Silky and seamless on the palate, offering bitter cherry and raspberry flavors enlivened by a gentle spicy element.
Black raspberries, walnuts, red cherries explode on the nose. The palate is medium-bodied with hints of plum and cherry, followed by the faintest hint of chocolate. Though from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, there is an Old-World-Burgundy quality to this wine. Low on tannins but high on acidity, this is a red that can pair with seafood. However, be sure to only pair it with heavier, meatier recipes or you’ll overwhelm the scallops!
Scallop Recipe to Pair: Bacon-wrapped roasted scallops
The Mirabelle Brut Rosé is a specially crafted blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Schramsberg's select cool-climate vineyards in Carneros, Anderson Valley, and the Sonoma and Marin coastal areas of Northern California.
A little pricier than the other options on this list, but worth it if you’re going for a splurge. (And c’mon, you’re buying scallops so why not!) This is a delicious vintage combined from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that sparkles with soft strawberries, crisp red apples, and red currants. Fruity notes, but very dry. Pair this with scallops in a red or berry sauce to draw out those fruit flavors.
Scallop Recipe to Pair: Seared Scallops with Raspberry-Pomegranate Glaze
Sparkling Wines for Scallops
It is a well-known fact that seafood, especially shellfish, goes with sparkling wine.
The pairing is so natural as the high acidity in most sparkling wines really makes seafood sing.
Pergolo Prosecco Doc Brut
A very gentle prosecco that allows the subtler flavors of the scallop to shine through. Pergolo was bottled in Mionetto at Nelle Cantine di Crocetta del Montello in northeastern Italy. The cooler weather in northern Italy brings out the citrus flavors with only a slight hint of sweeter melon. While the acidity is sharp, Pergolo is light on alcohol. Lemon and green pears mixed with a creamy scallop? Delightful.
Scallop Recipe to Pair: Scallops with Brown Butter and Parmesan Risotto
Avinyó has had their hand in the vineyard estate since 990AD. A little over a millennium later, they are still expertly crafting perfect alternatives to Champagne. This Cava is made from a combination of traditional Cava grapes: Parellada, Xarel-lo, and Macabeo. They are fermented, then aged in oak barrels, and finally aged on the lees. A beautiful combination of golden apples, lemon zest, and a mineral finish marries well with seafood.
Scallop Recipe to Pair: Scallops with Asparagus and Pea Purée and Pancetta
Our wine experts think this French Crémant wine would be a match made in heaven with these dishes. Bon appétit!
It is tough to find an affordable Champagne these days, especially if you want to actually enjoy what you’re drinking. Crémant de Jura has done it! This bone-dry Champagne is made from pure Chardonnay grapes. True to that variety, there are strong notes of bruised apples and uplifting minerals. Pear and flowers follow. A delightful wine that can as easily stand up to scallops in a sauce as complement delicately seared ones.
Scallop Recipe to Pair: Seared Scallops with Coconut Lemongrass Sauce
Fun Scallop Facts:
- They have 50-100 bright blue eyes located at the rim of their shells. These allow them to sense shadow and movement. Essentially similar to the human cornea.
- Each ring on their shells represents 1 year of growth, like tree trunks. Looking at a scallop’s shell, you can mark the most important events in their lives.
- They cannot seal their shells completely, so they have to live deep in the ocean with high salinity.
- Scallops are the only bivalve that can swim. They do this by opening and closing their shells rapidly and expelling water.
- Most scallops are hermaphrodites and reproduce by spawning
- But Atlantic scallops have gender. Male is white and female are red.
- Scallops eat krill, plankton, and algae, which is why their shells can be different colors.
Scallop Recipe and Pairing:
Simple Classic Seared Scallops Recipe
If you’re new to scallops or even just want a delicious quick meal, this is the recipe for you.
Scallops have a delicious summery flavor as it is, so you don’t need to spice them or add lots of sauces to make a delicious meal!
(I honestly use this as a weeknight treat if I want something light and filling.)
You will need:
- 1 lb. dry diver scallops*
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp oil
- Smoked paprika (optional)**
- Kosher Salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Lemon Wedges for serving (optional)
- Remove the abductor from the shell. (If this wasn’t done at your shop.)
- Place your butter and oil in a sauté pan and turn to high heat.
- Season your scallops lightly on both sides. (And yes, I mean lightly. Sprinkle, people, don’t douse!)
- Once the fat is shiny and beginning to smoke, add the scallops. Make sure they do not touch.
- Sear for 1.5 – 2 minutes on each side, depending on how done you like them. (No more than 2 minutes though or you might as well be eating rubber.)***
- Remove from heat and serve over steamed asparagus. Spoon a little excess fat over the top of each scallop.
*You can use bay scallops if that’s what you’re craving. Just keep in mind this cooking time will decrease dramatically. I’d say no more than 30 seconds per side. You want them a little raw in the middle. This isn’t a dish you can pop in the pan and walk away!
**You can skip the paprika altogether if you want only salt and pepper. Other seasonings that go well with simple scallops are chives, lemon juice, parsley, marjoram, or garlic. It depends on what else you’re serving.
***The scallops should have a tiny brown crust on each side. If you seared them for 1.5 minutes they will still be slightly translucent in the center. This, in my personal opinion, is a perfectly cooked scallop.
Wine to Pair with Simple Classic Seared Scallops Recipe
I love a simple white wine to pair with scallops. Sancerre is a perfect addition to any seafood dish, and I love the marriage of Sauvignon Blanc flavors and a sweet tender scallop. (Bonus: You can also poach scallops in this wine if you’re going for a different cooking style!)
Classic Sauvignon flavors like herbs, flint, and citrus pair excellently with scallops. A faint fruity flavor of white currants and grapefruit enhance the complexity for a summery sip. The slightly buttery finish also pairs nicely with the creamier texture of scallops!
FAQ’s About Scallops
There are plenty of wines to choose from when preparing Scallops and depending on the dish or sauces you plan to add in this dish, but the most common ones that are used with scallops are White champagne, Bordeaux and Pinot Noir.
Sauvignon blanc is an excellent wine to pair with scallops due to it’s fruity and herbal notes, and also you can use sparkling Chardonnay, which has a dry and sweet taste.
Besides just drinking good wine, you can also put some inside the dish to enrich the flavor of the scallops and the best wines that you can use are with high acidities, such as Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, and dry sparkling wine too.
Scallops are one of the most delicious shellfish. Tender, delicate, sweet…the epitome of summer! Their meaty flesh is versatile, so experiment with different recipes. White or sparkling wine is always a safe bet. But you can get more adventurous if you’re adding more flavors to your dish. In the end, it’s up to you and what’s on your menu!
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