The simple answer is that you can eat scallops raw if they are of the right quality.
Scallop sushi and scallop sashimi is very popular in Japan.
The key to eating scallops raw is ensuring that the scallops are fresh.
There are two ways to make sure the scallops you have are suitable to eat raw: if they are “sushi or sashimi grade” scallops or if you have caught them yourself.
Can you Eat Bought Scallops Raw?
Yes, for sure. If you have bought scallops with the gradings we mentioned – “sushi or sashimi grade” – then they are fine to eat raw.
This designation usually means the scallops have been flash frozen to a temperature that kills any parasites that might be present.
Scallops are not renowned for carrying parasites so standard grade scallops may be OK to eat raw, but if you want to be 100% safe, go with sushi or sashimi grade scallops [this means the same thing as sushi is just sashimi (raw fish) on rice].
What About Freshly Harvested Scallops?
The other way to reduce risk in eating scallops raw is to eat freshly caught scallops. Almost all scallops in seafood shops and supermarkets are snap frozen then thawed. But sometimes if you visit an area with a scallop industry it is possible to get scallops fresh off the boat. It is also possible, if you know the techniques, to dive for scallops yourself! This way you really now they are fresh.
What to Look For in Raw Scallops?
When buying scallops you should look for firm, intact, lustrous flesh and the absence of a strong fishy smell. Be sure to buy dry packed scallops (sushi grade scallops will be dry packed).
Cheaper scallops will have often been treated with tripolyphosphate, a solution that gives scallops makes them absorb a lot of moisture. This provides for a longer shelf life, but makes dilutes their flavor and makes them more difficult to cook quickly in a way that preserves their flavor.
While these wet packed scallops might be OK for a marinara sauce or to put in a paella, they aren’t good for eating raw, or for grilled scallop dishes that are designed to “hero” the molluscs as the centrepiece of the dish.
This means your scallops won’t sear nicely, and will instead steam.
How to enjoy raw scallops?
In my opinion, the best way to eat raw scallops is to have them Japanese style. That is as either sushi or sashimi.
Start by removing the roe from the scallops (you can keep it to add to a seafood sauce for pasta) then butterfly the scallop and fold it out so it is roughly rectangular in shape.
This can then serve as the topping for nigiri sushi – the oblong shaped bite sized sushi that were all very familiar with.
Give it some zing by putting a little wasabi on the block of rice before adding the butterflied scallop.
Serve with a side bowl of soy sauce for dipping.
Are there other ways to eat scallops raw?
Yes, for sure! The other main way is to do them as ceviche! Ceviche is a way of preparing raw fish by marinating it in lime juice. Like cooking, this turns the clear flesh of the fish an opaque white and has the same effect in terms of making it safe to eat.
Ceviche recipes also sometimes include chilli, avocado, coriander and other flavours that complement the lime juice. Often ceviche is eaten by scooping it up with a tostada, or roasted corn chip! Yum.
What about Cooked Scallops?
Cooking scallops takes away the risk of most bacterial infections away by heating the scallops to a high enought temperature.
Cooked scallops are also very tasty if done simply in ways they highlight their delicate, slightly sweet and buttery taste.
Our favorite method of cooking scallops is to buy the scallops on the shell and grill them in the shell with butter and some pancetta. Simple but delicious.