How to Open Scallop Shells

Coquilles St-Jacques

Perk-to-being-friends-with-a-chef #326 : he will teach you how to open scallops!

This in turn allows you to jump the line at the fish stall, because the people in front of you need to have their scallops opened and cleaned (ha!), but you ask politely if you can just buy yours and go. And you know it’s just a figment of your imagination, but you like to think that they, as the fish guy, look at you in awe and think “wow, this girl opens her own scallops!”.

And here’s how you do it: hold the scallop shell horizontally in your left hand, flat side up, round edge facing you. Insert the end of a round-tipped knife in the opening to the right of the shell, and work the knife towards you, rotating it on itself to open the two halves just enough for you to slip the meaty tip of your left thumb in the gap, and maintain it open.

This is when you start to feel how very much alive the scallop is, as it struggles with all its might to keep that trapdoor shut. Thankfully you are the mightiest of the two, this is what we call an ecosystem.

Using the dull edge of the knife blade, scrape the inside of the top shell in short movements going away from you. At one point you will feel the scallop surrender, and the top shell will open gloriously. Discard it.

Place your left thumb firmly on the scallop muscle. Still holding the knife in your right hand, insert the tip of the knife carefully beneath the grey-black lump that’s just above the muscle. Hold the lump gently between the knife and your right thumb, lift it up, and pull towards you. As you pull, you will feel a layer of skin peel off the scallop muscle, and the innards (barbes, literally “beards”, in French) will also come off cleanly.

This leaves you with just the edible muscle sitting queenly on its soft pink shell — but still somewhat gritty with sand, which you can rinse off under cold running water.

We opened ten for the two of us, and ate half of them raw and in the shell, while the other half was simply sauteed in olive oil until golden and sprinkled with fleur de sel… An extra-fresh and luxurious picnic from the sea which, we reflected, probably has negative calories because of the fight you have to put up in the prep!

[Afterthought: oh boy, is this one going to get me accused of animal cruelty?]

  • Be sure and save the shells to use for oven/serving dishes for small seafood dishes–they are a pretty bonus.

  • I’ll have to see if I can get scallops in the shell this far from the ocean so I can try this.

    Yes, it sounds a little brutal, but you should see what I do to a head of lettuce.

  • if this is animal cruelty what about how julia child cooked lobster?

  • What were they like raw? I’ve only had them cooked.

  • alistair

    scallops, the best!

    and you had the very best of the best!

    I adore them with the roe/gonads gently poached, but better still is the muscle sprinkled with salt and seared hard on a dry cast iron pan. No touching to see if stuck, just about 45 sec or less on each side. The lovely caramelization on the outside and tender “just done” inside is my idea of heaven.

  • Alisa

    Considering the brew-ha-ha over the fois gras, I laughed out loud when reading “this is what we call an ecosystem”, before even getting to your afterthought!

    One of my favorite sushi’s is scallop sushi. Have you tried the “coral” raw? I am wondering what that is like. Your picnic sounds delicious. My current need, now that I know how to open a scallop, is how to properly open an oyster, I mangel them.

  • Your papounet

    It so happens that, by a remarkable coincidence, I am quite knowledgeable in the art of Oyster Opening, particularly the japanese ones. See this link for an article I’ve translated some time ago:

    (there are two versions, French and English)

    The trickiest thing is that it takes several years of training (and a good weapon) to achieve a reasonable level of expertise, but after that, it’s real fun.

  • Joan

    OK Clotilde, time to confess! That’s not a scallop on the shell ~ THAT’S A LYCHEE!!!

    Well, maybe not, however I’ve a bowl of lychees on a table and as I walk past I pick one, peel it, and taste perfume. The enjoyment of the smooth seed in the centre…smoothhhhhh.

    You might claim it’s a scallop, however it still will be a lychee to me :-)

  • Meg

    Clotilde, for those of us who have some experience with opening oysters, how different is this? I assume that the thinner shells are delicate, making it trickier. Any thoughts?

    Thanks for the great post – it never would have occurred to me to open my own scallops (I’m lazy!) but why not? Especially if it means you can jump the queue!

  • That is a gorgeous picture.

  • Juls

    “This is what we call an ecosystem” – I laughed out loud when I read that, which was embarrassing as I’m at work right now and pretending to be extremely busy. Great article!

Get the newsletter

Receive FREE email updates with all the latest recipes, plus exclusive inspiration and Paris tips. You can also choose to be notified when a new post is published.

View the latest edition of the newsletter.