An Imposter May Be Lurking in Your Seafood Department

Adriana Velez

pen shell scallopsI've been obsessed with a mystery. A couple nights ago, I bought a package of "jumbo" frozen wild-caught sea scallops for $6.99. Cheap, right? And perhaps too good to be true. Once I got them home, I noticed something odd. They weren't that classic round shape like most scallops -- they were slightly kidney-shaped. They were also a bit purple-tinted. Hmm.

When I seared them, they didn't go from that pearly translucent color to that opaque white like scallops do. In fact, I ended up overcooking them because I was waiting for that to happen. Oh, rubbery dinner. 

I smelled something (sorry!) fishy. When I suggested to my husband that they might be fakes, he said I was crazy. But I decided to do a little digging ...

To my horror, I discovered that rumors of fake scallops abound. Supposedly you can punch out a scallop shape out of a skate wing! Or shark! But probably not shark because someone else says shark meat is like beef. (Really?)

In fact, there were so many websites with discussions about the topic, I decided I should take the question to the authority:, where all urban legends -- if they are indeed legends -- get debunked. They were no help. All they have is a message board with people debating the possibility of faking scallops and then getting side-tracked into a discussion about Salisbury steak.

Finally I found it, a scallop just like mine: kidney shaped, found on the west coast of Mexico, kind of rubbery even when you don't overcook it. It's a pen shell scallop, or pinna rugosa. And apparently they're best raw in ceviche. Or, if you bought them frozen like I did, just defrost and then cook using heat rays from your eyes so as not to overcook them. Sigh.

So now you know. "Jumbo" sea scallops from Mexico? They're legit and they're less expensive than diver scallops. But cook them with even more care than you would regular scallops.

Has anyone else seen or cooked pen shell scallops?

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