Scallops are characterised by offering two flavours and textures in one shell: the meat, called “scallop”, which is firm and white, and the roe, called “coral”, which is soft and often brightly coloured reddish-orange. Some markets sell scallops already prepared in the shell with only the meat remaining, whereas others have them available both with and without coral.
A symbol of many things, from pilgrims on their way to the shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostela in Spain, to a multinational oil refinery, and found in all the world’s oceans, the scallop shell is perhaps the definitive shell shape. European names for this prized bivalve often reflect its association with St James, such as the German ‘Jakobsmuschel’ and French ‘Coquille St. Jacques’. The scallop is an active swimmer, propelling itself through the water by using its adductor muscle to open and close its shell; it is this well developed adductor muscle that provides such a tasty culinary morsel, along with its stronger-tasting roe (the reproductive organ). Scallops are hermaphrodites, changing gender throughout their lives, with orange roe indicating females and white roe, males.
There are around 350 species of Scallops (members of the Pectinidae family) worldwide, but Australia only has two main commercial species:
- Commercial Scallops (Pecten fumatus), also known as Tasmanian, king or sea scallops, have creamy coloured flesh and are generally sold with their orange roe attached. Their shells are oval and the flat, pale pinky-red top shell has ridges radiating out from the hinge and a sculptured (‘scalloped’) outer edge, the classic scallop shell design. Commercial Scallops are available both farmed and wild-caught, harvested, by diving or ‘mud dredges’, mainly off Tasmania and Victoria with smaller quantities off Jervis Bay (NSW) and Coffin Bay and Spencer Gulf (SA), they occur south from Torquay (Qld) to Shark Bay (WA) and are endemic to Australia. Farmed Commercial Scallops are available year round, with wild mainly available from September to December.
- Saucer Scallops (Amusium species), also known as Queensland, white or mud scallops (and moon scallops in Asia), have a firmer white flesh and are generally sold roe off, often still attached to the half shell. Their shells are almost round and the top shell is distinctively smooth and flat with concentric reddish-brown, circular bands. Two species of Saucer Scallops are sold in Australia: Ballot’s (Amusium balloti) and the smaller Northern (Amusium pleuronectes). Saucer Scallops occur around most of the Australian coast, except along the southern coast from Esperance (WA) to Sydney, and are wild-caught. Ballot’s Saucer Scallops are trawled mainly off Queensland (north of Torquay), with some coming from Shark Bay and southwestern WA, and are available from January to October. Northern Saucer Scallops are a bycatch of coastal trawling (mainly for Prawns) and are mostly exported to South East Asia and the USA.
Other Scallops occasionally seen around Australia include:
- Doughboy Scallop (Mimachlamys asperrima, also called Chlamys asperrima) also known as sponge Scallops, are found off the southern coast and caught in Bass Strait, Jervis Bay and South Australia along with Commercial Scallops.
- Queen Scallop (Equichlamys bifrons also called Chlamys bifrons) are large Scallops (up to 15cm) found in southern waters (NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and SA). The Sydney market sees some product from SA.
- Fan Scallop (Annachlamys flabellata), found on sandy bottoms in northern Australia and harvested mainly by recreational fishermen, occur throughout the western Pacific Ocean from Indonesia to New Caledonia.