The day I embarked on an adventure with Alex Todd aboard his scalloping boat in the heart of Portland, Maine, there was one small detail I overlooked: packing a lunch. Alex, a dedicated day-boat scallop fisherman, sets out to harvest scallops exclusively during the brief winter season. His day starts at the break of dawn and continues until he’s amassed his 15-gallon scallop quota, a grueling journey that unfolded over 12 hours on that particular day. Thankfully, Alex’s boundless generosity came to my rescue. While he and his crew contentedly munched on their prepacked sandwiches, I found myself indulging in a unique feast – freshly shucked scallops, plucked from their shells just minutes before. The resounding answer to the question “Can you eat raw scallops?” is an enthusiastic and resounding yes.
Raw scallops are not merely palatable; they are a culinary revelation. The innate sweetness of scallops shines brilliantly in its raw state, a flavor profile that is at its most pristine before any heat touches it. The culinary possibilities with raw scallops are endless – think carpaccio, crudo, tartare, sushi, or, as I experienced that memorable day, simply popping them into your mouth like delectable pieces of candy. However, there’s one caveat to indulging in raw scallops: the importance of selecting your scallops with utmost care. Most of what you’ll find behind the counters of your typical supermarket won’t hold a candle to the extraordinary seafood feast I enjoyed during my maritime adventure. So, choose wisely when seeking out these ocean gems for a raw culinary experience that truly dazzles.
When it comes to relishing raw scallops, there are a couple of essential terms to keep on your radar while embarking on your shopping journey: “dry” and “day boat.” To truly grasp the significance of these descriptors, it’s crucial to comprehend how your typical supermarket scallop is sourced and handled. The majority of sea scallops available in the market are harvested by sizable vessels that embark on harvesting expeditions that can span up to a whopping two weeks. Whether these scallops are netted on the very first day or the fourteenth day of the voyage, they all find their way into a massive storage hold deep within the boat’s hull, where they sit nestled amidst ice for the duration of the trip.
This extended voyage at sea inevitably leads to a considerable decline in the quality of scallops. Imagine the plight of a scallop that’s already two weeks old before it even touches land, not to mention the additional time it takes to navigate through the intricate supply chain and finally arrive at your local supermarket, only to make its way onto your plate. However, it’s not solely the age of the scallops that matters; as they rest on that bed of ice, they start absorbing excess water. This might make them appear plumper, but it dilutes their exquisite flavor.
The real twist in the scallop tale unfolds once they reach the shore. Many scallop processors, who purchase these scallops, subject them to yet another soak, this time in a solution containing sodium tripolyphosphate – a preservative that also causes the scallops to soak up even more water. Since scallops are sold by weight, unsuspecting buyers end up paying for all that additional water. This process is entirely legal, and there’s no obligation for the supermarket to label the scallops with their age or disclose the soaking process they’ve undergone. You only discover the truth when you arrive home and take a bite, realizing you’ve acquired an unexpected and rather unpleasant briny water balloon that was definitely not intended for raw consumption. A culinary misadventure best avoided!
To ensure that your scallops are a far cry from being aged, waterlogged, or laden with chemicals, here’s your game plan. Start by making sure you’re sourcing your scallops from a trustworthy fishmonger or company. Whether it’s a local market just around the corner or an online retailer from a distant part of the country, the key is that they possess a deep understanding of their products and can provide you with concrete information about the scallops’ origins and handling.
Next, insist on procuring “day-boat” scallops. Unlike their counterparts on lengthy fishing expeditions, day boats bring their precious catch to shore on the very same day it’s hauled in from the ocean depths. While this approach might not be as efficient as filling a massive hold over a two-week voyage, it guarantees that the scallops reach your table at the peak of their freshness. Those delectable scallops I had the privilege of savoring on Alex Todd’s boat? Well, any that managed to escape my voracious appetite were brought ashore that very night and made available for sale the following day. This means you’ll experience nearly the same incredible freshness and flavor that I relished on the deck of the boat.
When it comes to “dry” scallops, the term doesn’t refer to their taste; rather, it signifies that these scallops have never been subjected to soaking. What you’re consuming is the unadulterated scallop muscle, just as it was when it was liberated from its shell. Opting for dry scallops eliminates any concerns about chemicals or scallops that have become overly waterlogged, incapable of absorbing the delicate nuances of flavors like extra-virgin olive oil or the zesty kick of fresh citrus juice, or any other seasonings you might have in mind. If you’ve never had the pleasure of savoring a dry scallop, be prepared to be astonished by the unparalleled sweetness and firmness they offer compared to their waterlogged counterparts. It’s a culinary revelation that’s bound to leave you pleasantly surprised.
Indeed, purchasing dry day-boat scallops might come with a slightly higher price tag per pound compared to their chemical-soaked counterparts from trip boats. However, the superior taste, quality, and sustainability you’re investing in make every extra cent well worthwhile, especially if your culinary intentions involve enjoying them in their raw glory. While cooking can sometimes conceal imperfections, taking that first bite of a raw scallop unveils the unadulterated story of its journey from the ocean to your plate.
When you choose a path that keeps this journey brief, uncomplicated, and rooted in trust, you’ll find yourself questioning why you ever spent so much time laboring over a hot stove. The pure delight of savoring these pristine scallops will have you wondering why you didn’t embark on this flavorful journey sooner.
- Chilled serving plates
- Small bowl for the citrus vinaigrette
- Knife and cutting board
- Freezer (to firm up scallops)
- Lemon juicer (optional)
- 8-10 large, fresh sea scallops
- 1 lemon
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Fresh herbs such as chives, cilantro, or dill) for garnish
- Optional garnishes: microgreens, thinly sliced radishes, or citrus segments
For the Sauce:
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup (adjust to taste)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Begin by preparing the scallops. Ensure they are very fresh and clean. Remove the tough muscle on the side of each scallop and discard it.
- To slice the scallops thinly, place them in the freezer for about 15-20 minutes to firm up slightly. This will make them easier to slice.
- While the scallops are in the freezer, prepare the citrus vinaigrette. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, orange juice, olive oil, honey or maple syrup, salt, and black pepper. Adjust the sweetness and seasoning to your preference.
- Remove the scallops from the freezer and thinly slice them crosswise into rounds. Aim for slices that are about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Arrange the sliced scallops on chilled serving plates in a single layer.
- Drizzle the citrus vinaigrette over the scallops. Be sure to distribute it evenly.
- Squeeze a little fresh lemon juice over the scallops and drizzle with a bit of extra virgin olive oil. Season with a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Garnish the scallop carpaccio with freshly chopped herbs and any optional garnishes you like, such as microgreens, thinly sliced radishes, or citrus segments.
- Serve the scallop carpaccio immediately as a light and refreshing appetizer.
- Use the freshest, highest-quality scallops available for the best results. Ensure they have a sweet, ocean-fresh aroma.
- Firming the scallops in the freezer makes them easier to slice thinly, but don’t freeze them solid.
- Adjust the citrus vinaigrette to your taste, adding more or less honey/maple syrup and seasoning as desired.
- Be cautious with the salt as scallops can be naturally salty.
- You can get creative with garnishes; consider adding thinly sliced radishes, microgreens, or citrus segments for additional flavors and textures.
- Serve the scallop carpaccio immediately to enjoy the delicate, fresh flavors at their best.