Choosing Shellfish (Shrimp, Scallops, etc.)

(This post is part of a guest article by Erica. See the Scallops in Orange Butter (Escalopes au beurre a l’orange) post for details about her and a recipe that applies these techniques. -William)

Deciphering scallop labels

Deciphering scallop labels

I must say Alton Brown’s Good Eats episode Crustacean Nation does a fine job explaining what all those funny numbers are when choosing shrimp, you know, you’ve seen them like 50/60, 15/20, et cetera. These numbers apply to other shellfish as well. To sum it all up, a 20/30 means that there are about 20-30 scallops per pound. U-sizes like U/15 (U stands for “Under”) indicate that there are under 15 scallops to make up a pound, a pretty large size. U/15 may seem very large, but for many cases this is what is needed. The largest I believe is up to a U/10, which is again, 10 or less to make up a pound.

What a scallop should look like.

What a scallop should look like

Key points to keep in mind when choosing scallops:

  • The color should be off-whitish-beige, even a little gray to pink but not white.
  • Look out for scallops that look like they are in water, this can ruin their flavors.
  • In some places (like France 🙂 ) the adductor muscle that is orange is still attached. It is a little firmer and has more of a distinct fish taste than the body of the scallop. It’s a matter of personal taste, but I wouldn’t discard this-I think it’s a nice treat.
  • Scallops should be firm and their shape should be uniform, not uneven or lopsided.

Actually where I am in southern Louisiana, I could not find any fresh scallops unless I drove an hour away to the nearest Whole Foods. Therefore I used frozen sea scallops which came out beautifully. Again apply the same number measurements with frozen scallops to choose your correct sizes.

(Unless you live near the coast, I recommend buying most of your shrimp and other shellfish frozen and defrosting it yourself. This is one of the few cases where frozen is normally better. Commercially bought shrimp is frozen on the boat and then shipped frozen. The “fresh” shrimp your normally see in the supermarket is normally the same ones that are sold frozen. -William)


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