Here’s why your scallops aren’t searing nicely

Chefs: They make it look so easy.
Chefs: They make it look so easy.
Image: AP Photo/Diane Bondareff
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Scallops should be super easy to cook at home, but as many who have tried can attest, they often turn rubbery on the inside for no apparent reason.

Except, as Serious Eats reports, there is a reason. And, even better: It’s not your fault!

If you are buying scallops from the supermarket, chances are good that they are “wet scallops,” meaning they’ve been treated with sodium tripolyphosphate (STP), a chemical that’s not harmful to your health, but is harmful to your searing capabilities. True to their name, wet scallops exude more moisture when they’re cooking, messing up the searing process and leaving you with an icky, rubbery dinner.

Depending on who you ask, STP is used for different reasons. Serious Eats says it causes the scallops to pull in extra moisture, “up to 30% of their original weight,” which then costs you, the consumer, extra money. But an industry spokesperson from the National Fisheries Institute said it’s meant to help the scallops retain their natural moisture and “to prevent moisture loss during thawing.” (emphasis ours)

Whatever the reason, you’ll likely want to avoid wet scallops and look for “dry scallops” instead. (Even the National Fisheries Institute spokesperson said wetness can impact searing in some cases.) Serious Eats offers several ways to tell the difference:

First off, check the label. Fish counters selling dry scallops will most likely be proud of that fact and label them as such. Second, look at the container the scallops are held in. If there’s milky white liquid pooled in it, odds are those scallops are treated. Finally, take a look at the scallops themselves. Wet scallops have a ghostly, opaque, pale white or orange-white appearance. Dry scallops will be fleshier and more translucent.

At this point, says Serious Eats, you’re almost there. Just dry the scallops out a bit more by salting them on a paper towel-lined plate for 15 minutes, sear on high heat and enjoy. (Detailed instructions here.)

Can’t find dry scallops? America’s Test Kitchen has instructions on what to do: Soak your wet scallops in a quart of cold water, 1/4 cup of lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons of salt for 30 minutes.

Now somebody go tell Gordon Ramsay to lay off his poor chefs.