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What'S The Difference Between Bay Scallops And Sea Scallops

Scallops can instantly transform a simple pasta dish into a restaurant-worthy indulgence. But a quick trip to the fishmonger will tell you: There isn’t just one type of scallop.

Scallops come in a number of varieties including sea scallops, bay scallops, and more. Here, you’ll learn the difference between these types of scallops and find more information on how to get the right scallops for your recipe.


What exactly are scallops?

You may know them as those tender little white croquettes from your favorite seafood restaurant, but scallops are actually bivalves, or molluscs, with two hinged shells. The abductor muscle — the muscle that opens and closes the shell — is the part we eat.


Bay scallops versus sea scallops

In general, you’ll find that most scallops fall under one of two umbrellas: bay scallops or sea scallops. You probably know scallops best. They’re both the largest and most popular type of scallop, and they’re the one you’ll most commonly find in restaurants.

Sea scallops are caught year-round up to 200 feet deep in cold marine waters and are typically 1 ½ to 2 inches in diameter. A pound of sea scallops typically consists of about 20-30 scallops. They are a bit chewier than tender scallops, but still perform best with a short cooking time. Read our scallop cooking guide for more info.

Bay scallops, on the other hand, are caught in the cold, shallow waters of east coast estuaries and bays. They are about one-third the size of sea scallops, average about ½ inch in diameter, and can range in weight from 50 to 100 scallops per pound. But with this smaller size comes more tender meat and a sweeter flavor. And another good news: They’re less expensive than giant scallops.

15 best recipes that start with frozen scallops


Other types of scallops

Calico Scallops

Although sometimes labeled bay scallops, calico scallops are harvested from the warm waters of the Atlantic and Gulf Coast of Florida and as far away as Central and South America.

They are even smaller than bay scallops (100 to 200 calico scallops equal one pound) and can be further distinguished by their red and pink patchwork coloration on the shell. Calico scallops are the least expensive of the bunch.

Patagonian scallops

I recently came across these Frozen Greenwise Patagonian Scallops at Publix and chose to buy them over the substantially more expensive frozen sea scallops. They’re small, sweet, and tender, just like bay scallops (which I substituted for Patagonian scallops in Chef John’s Bay Scallop Chowder).

After some research, I learned that they are harvested in the freezing Antarctic waters just off the coast of Argentina. The more you know!


Shopping for scallops

Yes, there is still a lot to know when it comes to buying scallops. Buying the right kind is a great start, but do you want fresh or frozen, wet or dry? We will analyze it here.

Fresh and frozen scallops

So, do you go to the fishmonger for fresh scallops or to the freezer for scallops? As with all seafood, buying frozen scallops is actually the surest way to certify that they are fresh. That’s because, unless you live near a coast, your “fresh” seafood has likely been previously frozen and then thawed once it reached the store. Frozen scallops have been stored at their peak freshness, making them a top choice for those who aren’t lucky enough to have fresh, local seafood on hand.

Wet or dry scallops

If you can, try to buy only dry-packed scallops, and here’s why: Wet-packed scallops have been soaked in a phosphate solution to blanch them and make them absorb more water (making them last longer). That means you’re paying more for, er, water. Even worse, this water escapes during cooking, reducing the scallops to a fraction of their size when seared.

This is also said to make them tougher and less flavorful. For cheaper and overall higher quality scallops, always look for the words “dry-packed” or “chemical-free” on the label.

Diving Scallops and Dayboat

Don’t let these terms trip you up: If you see the term “diver” or “day boat” scallop, that literally refers to how the scallops were harvested. Diving scallops are harvested by hand by divers. While this is considered the more sustainable method because it is more selective and does less damage to the ocean floor, it is also the most expensive option.

Dayboat scallops are the result of another distinctive method of harvesting scallops. All scallops so graded were caught on a boat which was returned with fresh scallops within 24 hours of departure. These scallops are sold immediately, ensuring maximum freshness. Like dive scallops, dayboat scallops are some of the most expensive on the market.

However, most commercially sold scallops are harvested by “trawling” or by scraping the ocean floor for scallops which are then immediately frozen to preserve their freshness.

Related:

  • How to put the perfect sear on sea scallops
  • Our favorite side dishes for scallops
  • Other scallop recipes


Scallops can instantly transform a simple pasta dish into a restaurant-worthy indulgence. But a quick trip to the fishmonger will tell you: There isn’t just one type of scallop.

Scallops come in a number of varieties including sea scallops, bay scallops, and more. Here, you’ll learn the difference between these types of scallops and find more information on how to get the right scallops for your recipe.


What exactly are scallops?

You may know them as those tender little white croquettes from your favorite seafood restaurant, but scallops are actually bivalves, or molluscs, with two hinged shells. The abductor muscle — the muscle that opens and closes the shell — is the part we eat.


Bay scallops versus sea scallops

In general, you’ll find that most scallops fall under one of two umbrellas: bay scallops or sea scallops. You probably know scallops best. They’re both the largest and most popular type of scallop, and they’re the one you’ll most commonly find in restaurants.

Sea scallops are caught year-round up to 200 feet deep in cold marine waters and are typically 1 ½ to 2 inches in diameter. A pound of sea scallops typically consists of about 20-30 scallops. They are a bit chewier than tender scallops, but still perform best with a short cooking time. Read our scallop cooking guide for more info.

Bay scallops, on the other hand, are caught in the cold, shallow waters of east coast estuaries and bays. They are about one-third the size of sea scallops, average about ½ inch in diameter, and can range in weight from 50 to 100 scallops per pound. But with this smaller size comes more tender meat and a sweeter flavor. And another good news: They’re less expensive than giant scallops.

15 best recipes that start with frozen scallops


Other types of scallops

Calico Scallops

Although sometimes labeled bay scallops, calico scallops are harvested from the warm waters of the Atlantic and Gulf Coast of Florida and as far away as Central and South America.

They are even smaller than bay scallops (100 to 200 calico scallops equal one pound) and can be further distinguished by their red and pink patchwork coloration on the shell. Calico scallops are the least expensive of the bunch.

Patagonian scallops

I recently came across these Frozen Greenwise Patagonian Scallops at Publix and chose to buy them over the substantially more expensive frozen sea scallops. They’re small, sweet, and tender, just like bay scallops (which I substituted for Patagonian scallops in Chef John’s Bay Scallop Chowder).

After some research, I learned that they are harvested in the freezing Antarctic waters just off the coast of Argentina. The more you know!


Shopping for scallops

Yes, there is still a lot to know when it comes to buying scallops. Buying the right kind is a great start, but do you want fresh or frozen, wet or dry? We will analyze it here.

Fresh and frozen scallops

So, do you go to the fishmonger for fresh scallops or to the freezer for scallops? As with all seafood, buying frozen scallops is actually the surest way to certify that they are fresh. That’s because, unless you live near a coast, your “fresh” seafood has likely been previously frozen and then thawed once it reached the store. Frozen scallops have been stored at their peak freshness, making them a top choice for those who aren’t lucky enough to have fresh, local seafood on hand.

Wet or dry scallops

If you can, try to buy only dry-packed scallops, and here’s why: Wet-packed scallops have been soaked in a phosphate solution to blanch them and make them absorb more water (making them last longer). That means you’re paying more for, er, water. Even worse, this water escapes during cooking, reducing the scallops to a fraction of their size when seared.

This is also said to make them tougher and less flavorful. For cheaper and overall higher quality scallops, always look for the words “dry-packed” or “chemical-free” on the label.

Diving Scallops and Dayboat

Don’t let these terms trip you up: If you see the term “diver” or “day boat” scallop, that literally refers to how the scallops were harvested. Diving scallops are harvested by hand by divers. While this is considered the more sustainable method because it is more selective and does less damage to the ocean floor, it is also the most expensive option.

Dayboat scallops are the result of another distinctive method of harvesting scallops. All scallops so graded were caught on a boat which was returned with fresh scallops within 24 hours of departure. These scallops are sold immediately, ensuring maximum freshness. Like dive scallops, dayboat scallops are some of the most expensive on the market.

However, most commercially sold scallops are harvested by “trawling” or by scraping the ocean floor for scallops which are then immediately frozen to preserve their freshness.

Related:

  • How to put the perfect sear on sea scallops
  • Our favorite side dishes for scallops
  • Other scallop recipes


Video about What'S The Difference Between Bay Scallops And Sea Scallops

15 Second Science – Bay versus Sea Scallops

A scallop is a scallop, right? Not exactly! This guest episode of 15 Second Science highlights the differences between two types found here in Delaware. Danielle Ferraro, a UD College of Earth Ocean and Environment master’s student in oceanography, explains!

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