Food Fears: Scallops

Scallops terrify me. Oh yes, they do.


Oh sure, they look innocuous enough, but five scary monsters lie beneath the glossy sheen…

Generally speaking, and without sounding too full of myself, I tend to “win” in the kitchen. I welcome just about any challenge to cook anything, even the stuff I don’t eat. And most of the time, the results are palatable. Or, at least, no one has suffered dearly. (Not that I know of, anyway.) But much like me and a handful of video game genres that make me think twice about life, there are a some food items—and we’re talking run-of-the-mill grocery store stuff, not offal and crickets—that scare me.

Take scallops. I did not grow up in a seafood-loving household. I can only surmise that my parents didn’t care for the stuff all that much outside of seafood that was canned, or breaded, fried, and usually frozen. For instance, as a kid, I consumed my share of fish sticks, tuna, and breaded shrimp. And the older I got, the less I enjoyed such fare. Once I went vegetarian, I finally had my excuse to avoid seafood altogether.

Skip ahead several years to a post-college me eating lots of spaghetti and poorly designed veggie burgers, when my husband enters the mix. Though my meat-eating days are behind me, it’s not like I’ve forgotten everything I learned from the cooks in my life. Together, and with inspiration from his grandmother, we build a solid repertoire of dishes that we both can enjoy. Though chicken, beef, pork, and turkey enter the equation, seafood remains on the back burner. I try my hand at the occasional fish filet, but am more prone to reach for the ready-made popcorn shrimp from the freezer when the moment strikes.

Only then, our diets mature, and frozen, prepared foods, especially fish and shellfish, lose their appeal. Also, I grow to speak with my wallet. Why spend $8.00 pound on a box of frozen (for who knows how long), breaded fish filets when I can get a fresh filet for more than half that and prepare it myself for pennies? Take that factory-produced-frankenfish!

If only reality was so chivalrous.

While I have managed to conquer or bravely face some seafood (I’m good with most white fish, have the occasionally win with salmon and swordfish, tuna remains iffy, shrimp/crab/lobster – passable when need be), anything that comes in an actual shell, and especially scallops, turn me into the petrified chef. Even now, just thinking about cooking scallops makes me wish I was not thinking of them. (And I’ll be honest, though I’ve cooked scallops, I’ve never cooked clams, mussels, or oysters. And frankly, I never want to.)

Part of the anxiety comes from the fact that they are really expensive, and I’m talking about the big sea scallops, not the little bay scallops (which are still just as scary). In my local stores, sea scallops can run nearly a dollar a piece, if not more. That’s a ridiculous price per pound when compared to fish! If I buy a serving of five scallops, the thought of loosing even one to bad technique is horrifying.

Then there’s the preparation and actual cooking of them. Unless I’m forming ground beef into meatballs or hamburgers, I really prefer to touch meatstuffs as little as possible when preparing them. In terms of fish, you’re never going to find me dealing with anything other than a cleaned filet. In terms of crustaceans, I will devein shrimp (though gross)  if I must, but dear god, nothing with heads or legs please. As for those dastardly scallops, did you know that most have a little extra piece of tissue on the side that should be removed prior to cooking? Just doing that makes me think I’m going to squish them into nothingness with my giant, clumsy hands.

And then, unfortunately, when it comes to meat, I am an unabashed overcooker. Now, my anxiety concerning undercooked meats has lessened some with time, but I still tend to cook things too long for their own good. I’ve read scallop recipes that literally yell “ONLY COOK FOR TWO MINUTES PER SIDE. NO MORE, YOU HEAR ME!!” And when I abide, the scallops turn out undercooked. But if I let them go for even 30 seconds more, they turn to rubber. [Le sigh.]

With scallops, I feel like I’m going to lose the battle before I even start.


Do you have any awesome scallop tips or recipes, or special secrets when it comes to preparing shellfish? Or how about this: are you scared of any foods? What items would you rather leave to the professionals or leave alone altogether?

While Cary’s happy to talk food here, she’s also pretty good at doling out words about video games at United We Game while simultaneously maintaining her own blog, Recollections of Play. You can also find an archive of fun, geeky articles from her and like-minded souls at Geek Force Network.


5 thoughts on “Food Fears: Scallops

  1. I love to eat scallops, even raw (but only at a sushi place, obvs), and like you I have made fish my last cooking area to try to master. Scallops, though, have definitely been my easymode seafood to learn to cook at home. The thing I’ve had to get over is how _damn hot_ I have to make the pan before I set them in. (and I hear you on the squicky de-tissue’ing. Ugh ug ug!)

    The only oil I’ve found that’ll take the really hot temperature without smoking is sunflower oil. I heat it up just short of smoking and plop them in. I get slightly grease burned sometimes with little splatters, but then when I do the “two minutes per side” the outside is charred/caramelized and the inside is cooked proper. It’s the only way I’ve managed to do it.


    • Thanks so much for the tip! I know that different oils can produce drastically different results when used in cooking, but I never would have thought to use sunflower oil in this case. I’ve got some scallops on the menu this week and will be sure to give it a try.


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