Scallops are very popular as they are great sources of low fat protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Scallops can be cooked easily in various ways including grilled, pan seared, baked, or fried. Amidst the wide variety of scallops on sale in the market now, you might have come across scallops that are labelled "chemical-free" (also called "dry packed") before. The word "chemical" when used with food is usually negative and we definitely agree that you should be aware of what chemicals you are ingesting in your food. Frozen scallops (as well as many other frozen seafoods) are treated with phosphates to reduce drip loss during the thawing process. When foods with high amounts of water are frozen slowly, they may experience a loss of fluid, called drip, upon thawing. This drip loss causes dehydration and nutrient loss in frozen food products.These phosphates are generally recognized as safe food additives, and when used in moderation, helps to bind the natural moisture in seafood through the freezing and thawing process.
As useful as phosphates are with frozen seafood, they are subject to abuse. A little bit of phosphate is essential to keep the natural moisture in seafood, but too much can cause the seafood to soak up additional water, and hence increasing its weight and size. Therefore, to minimize drip loss when packing dry scallops, they have to be harvested directly from the ocean, shucked on deck, then immediately frozen on the boat to capture their quality. This is much more tedious but you know for sure that you are paying for scallop and not water.
Warning signs that your scallops have been soaked in too much phosphate are when: 1. Color is too white or bleached looking. 2. Scallops are sitting in an excess of milky liquid.
When you get down to cooking the scallops, dry scallops caramelize naturally to a golden brown color that is very attractive when serving. A wet pack scallop is more apt to steam in all of that excess water and may overcook long before it will caramelize.
CC Image courtesy of Jun Seita on Flickr