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?]


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.