Skip to main content

Get instant access to everything. 2-Week Free Trial

Make 2021 the year of “Why not?” in the kitchen with Digital All Access. Get all our recipes, videos, and up-to-date ratings and cook anything with confidence.

Get Free Access ▸

Why You Should Avoid Wet Scallops

By Cook's Illustrated Published

Learn about the solution many frozen scallops are soaked in, and why it affects texture and browning potential.

A large percentage of the scallops available to consumers in this country have been soaked in a solution containing sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP), which causes the scallops to absorb and retain moisture, before being frozen for sale. For this reason, scallops containing STPP are known in the industry as “wet” while those without additives (and the extra water weight) are marketed as “dry.” To find out exactly what STPP does to scallops, we decided to purchase dry scallops and treat them with STPP ourselves. Following commercial protocols for STPP treatment, we'd be able to track how much moisture they absorbed and how their texture and flavor changed. And by comparing them to both frozen and fresh scallops, we hoped to figure out which type is best.

Experiment

We soaked 24 fresh (never frozen) dry sea scallops in solutions containing increasing concentrations of STPP. We tested 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 percent solutions of STPP (each also with 1 percent table salt). The soaked scallops were drained, patted dry, sealed in airtight bags, and frozen for two weeks. After thawing them in the refrigerator, we patted them dry, sealed them in bags, and cooked them to 130 degrees in a temperature-controlled water bath. We tasted the treated scallops next to two controls: unsoaked scallops that had been frozen, thawed, and cooked; and unsoaked scallops that were just cooked. We repeatedly weighed the scallops to determine moisture gain and loss.

Results

We found very similar results among samples treated with between 2 and 8 percent STPP, and therefore averaged the results from those samples. The scallops soaked in the STPP solutions picked up an average of 14 percent moisture before freezing and cooking. These scallops lost considerable moisture during thawing and cooking, but started with enough additional water that they ended with a net gain of 1.9 percent. During cooking, the scallops that were frozen without treatment and those that were never frozen lost 4.2 and 5.3 percent moisture, respectively. The scallops treated with STPP lost 6.7 percent moisture, and were very hard to sear because there was so much liquid in the pan.

Tasters showed a clear and strong preference for scallops without STPP. At the low end of the STPP range, tasters noted a “soapy” off-flavor; anything above 2 to 3 percent was described as “bitter” and “unpleasant.” The texture of the STPP scallops was “bouncy” and “unnatural.”

Takeaway

We learned a few important lessons. First, buying wet scallops means paying for a significant amount of additional water weight (14 percent in our test) at the price of scallop meat. Second, even though the scallops treated with STPP lost moisture during both thawing and cooking, they still ended up with a net gain in moisture. This resulted in washed-out flavor and a bouncy texture. Finally, we learned why it's difficult to get a good sear on STPP scallops—they shed about 25 percent more moisture during cooking than fresh, dry scallops. The liquid releases into the skillet, dropping the temperature and preventing browning. It's clear that whereas the producer benefits from the use of STPP, the home cook pays.

Heavy-Weight Losers: STPP Scallops

We compared the weight of scallops frozen without treatment, and soaked in STPP, before we froze and after we cooked them.

Recipe Pan-Seared Scallops

Juicy, crisp-crusted perfection means overcoming two obstacles: chemically treated scallops and weak stovetops.

Recipe Grilled Scallops

A blazing-hot fire can render scallops beautifully crisp on the outside and juicy within—or cement them to the grates like carbonized hockey pucks.

Recipe Miso Butter–Basted Scallops with Bok Choy and Chile

Miso butter is the key to boosting browning and flavor in this simple yet impressive scallop dish.

Leave a comment and join the conversation!

0 Comments
Read & post comments with a free account
Join the conversation with our community of home cooks, test cooks, and editors.
First Name is Required
Last Name is Required
Email Address is Required
How we use your email?
Password is Required
JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.