Are you looking for the best type of scallop to use in a dish? Or maybe you’re new to the world of scallops and are wondering whether the bay scallop or sea scallop is the best one to try first? These scallops are the two main categories of scallops, but there are actually several other types that fall within each category.
To help you dissect the differences between the many scallops in the sea, let’s start with a broad comparison of bay scallops vs sea scallops.
What are Bay Scallops?
A bay scallop is a species of scallop that’s usually found in bays and other shallow waters. Still, it’s not uncommon to find them deeper in the waters of the ocean. There are a few sub-species of bay scallops, but you’ll usually just hear about them lumped into the category of a bay scallop.
A bay scallop, like any scallop, is a type of bivalve mollusk, which are invertebrate animals that have two separate shells that hinge together to open and close. When you think of a scallop, you probably think of the scallop meat that you eat, but the name “scallop” refers to the whole animal, including its shell.
The bay scallop population varies depending on geographic location. While some areas see healthy populations, others experience rapid changes in bay scallop population, largely because of environmental changes that upset their natural habitats. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission notes that local biologists continuously monitor populations to ensure that they remain stable each year.
What are Sea Scallops?
Sea scallops are another species of scallop with other sub-species within its category. As you might have guessed, sea scallops are those you’ll find deep in the oceans. However, like bay scallops, there might be some outliers found in more shallow areas.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) currently lists the Atlantic sea scallop — one of the most common and well-known kinds of sea scallops — as above target population level, meaning that its population size is healthy and sustainable with current hatching and fishing practices.
Primary Differences Between Bay Scallops vs Sea Scallops
Now that you know what these categories of scallops refer to, let’s get into some differences between the two.
Where to Find Them
As mentioned, bay scallops and sea scallops typically live in different parts of the ocean. You’ll find bay scallops mostly in shallow waters, like bays and estuaries. If you see scallops close to shore, it’s more probably that they’re bay scallops rather than sea scallops. Bay scallops are mostly found in the Atlantic Ccean, from the Cape Cod area down to Florida, in areas like the Nantucket Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
Sea scallops usually live deeper in the ocean. They tend to like colder waters, so it’s common to find them in the more northern parts of the Atlantic Ocean, like Maine. However, they can live in more southern areas, but they’ll likely be hidden in deep waters to stay cool.
Bay and sea scallop habitats can also intertwine. You can find sea scallops in shallow waters (usually in colder areas, like the Northeast Atlantic), and you can find bay scallops in deeper waters. That’s why experts often rely on their looks to determine the difference rather than where they’re found.
Reproduction and Harvesting
One of the most interesting differences between these two types of scallops is in how they reproduce. Most bay scallops have both male and female sex organs, making them hermaphrodites that need only themselves to reproduce. In contrast, sea scallops are either male or female, so they’ll need a member of each sex to reproduce.
Both types of scallops can produce millions of eggs annually. However, it’s unlikely that many of them survive. Larvae from each drift in the water for a few weeks before they settle on the ocean floor, making them easy prey for fish and other sea creatures to gobble up.
The harvesting seasons of either scallop varies slightly depending on location. That’s because where scallops live can affect their reproductive seasons, and measures are put in place to protect them during their typical reproductive season. In Maine, it’s common to harvest sea scallops between December and April, while Florida’s usual season runs from June to September.
Most scallops are harvested similarly, using a boat with a dredge at the bottom. The scallop dredge reaches near the ocean floor to capture scallops that live deep in the water. Some divers also hand-collect scallops by scuba diving, resulting in what some call the diver scallop.
Texture and Flavor
Most scallop species taste fairly similar to one another, with just a few slight differences that would be challenging telling apart. The same holds true with a bay scallop and sea scallop.
Bay scallops tend to be a little on the sweeter side than sea scallops. They’re also slightly more tender, making them a good fit for seafood chowders, soups, and stews. Sea scallops have more of a rugged, tell-tale seafood taste, so they’re the ones you’ll usually see served on their own.
Cooking Methods and Usage
You can cook either scallop any way you’d usually cook scallops. Pan seared scallops are a favorite for scallop lovers because of the crisp outer skin that develops, giving them a robust flavor. Many prefer sea scallops for searing because of how large and hardy they are compared to the more delicate bay scallop.
Bay scallops, on the other hand, are often reserved for seafood chowders, casseroles, and the like. They cook quickly, which can make them a little finicky when seared in butter.
Pricing for farmed scallops is going to vary by location. If you live in an area with a sea scallop fishery nearby, you may not pay much for a pound of Atlantic sea scallops. However, if you’re on the West Coast and the scallops you’re buying come from the East Coast, be prepared for a significant price hike.
Generally, expect to see higher prices for sea scallops. Not only are they larger and meatier, but they’re also usually more difficult to catch because of how deep in the water they are. Diver sea scallops can go even higher because of the labor necessary to catch them.
Many types of shellfish pack in a lot of nutrition, and so do scallops. Bay scallops and sea scallops practically tie in the nutrition department, giving you a low-calorie, low-fact food that’s high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids. For a 4-ounce serving of either type of scallop, you can get between 15 and 20 grams of protein for only about 100 calories.
How to Choose the Best Scallops
Each market and store will probably have several packs of scallops to choose from, so it’s helpful to know what to look for when you’re buying scallops, whether you’re getting fresh or frozen scallops.
First, if you are buying frozen scallops, look for packages that are sealed tightly and have no signs of frost on the scallop. The scallops should look nice and bright rather than grayish or dull in hue.
This coloration should also be apparent on fresh scallops. Look for white to pinkish tones and avoid any that look or feel overly shiny and slimy. Using your fingertip, poke the scallop. It should feel similar to a healthy slab of beef or pork with a bit of bounceback rather than super squishy.
An excellent way to avoid the guessing games when buying a frozen or fresh scallop pack is to buy seafood online from a reputable source, like Maine Lobster House. Our fresh scallops are flash-frozen before we ship them to you to preserve their freshness as they get delivered.
Wet Packed vs Dry Packed
Two phrases you might notice when shopping for scallops are “wet packed” and “dry packed”. What does that mean, exactly?
A wet scallop is packed in liquid containing phosphates to increase their shelf-life. A dry scallop isn’t treated with the same liquid or additives, so they aren’t packed in any liquid. The major difference between the two is that, with a wet scallop package, you’re technically paying for some liquid in addition to your scallops because the pricing goes by weight. However, you may also be able to get a little more life from your wet packed scallops than dry packed scallops if you’re not using them right away.
With either one you choose, be sure to pat them completely dry using a paper towel before you pan sear them. Otherwise, your scallops won’t crisp up in the pan.
Bay Scallops vs Sea Scallops: No Wrong Choice
Bay scallops and sea scallops serve their own unique purposes for cooking and enjoying, but they’re interchangeable shellfish that you can use for multiple scallop recipes. Their main difference is in size, making sea scallops the popular choice for searing and the smaller footprint of bay scallops an excellent option for soups, chowders, and casseroles.
Avoid buying fake scallops or less-than-perfect scallops from your local grocery store, where seafood can be an iffy purchase. When you shop with Maine Lobster House, your money is going to only the very best seafood. Round out your scallop meal with our crab cakes, shrimp, and, of course, live lobster from Maine.