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TJ's Frozen Scallops-What am I doing wrong?

I purchsed a package of Frozen Wild Jumbo Scallops from Trader Joe's, hoping to add scallops to our cooking repetoire along with frozen shrimp that we use regularly.

I defrosted the scallops by soaking them in warm water -- like I do with shrimp, patted them dry once defrosted, then sliced them in half, drizzeled them with olive oil, added salt and pepper, then put them on the grill. We grilled them about 3-4 min on each side.

They turned out awful. They were dry and chewy.

How have you used frozen scallops with success?

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  1. I'm not too familiar with the size of the frozen scallops at TJ, but maybe 3-4 minutes per side on the grill was just too long? Scallops are so easy to overcook and then they get very chewy. Usually, I cook them until they are not quite cooked in the middle and pull them off the pan.

    Did you use the whole package of scallops? Maybe you could try some of the rest with a quicker cooking time?

    1. Three to four minutes a side sounds excessive. Can you imagine if you did that to shrimp? They would also be tough and chewy. I think 15-30 seconds per side might work better.

      I assume you soaked the bag in warm water, not the scallops themselves? If you soak the seafood itself, I would think you would leach away the small flavor they have.

      Just my guess.

      1. First, I never use warm water to defrost, only cold and then not directly. Second, they need to be very dry before cooking. Finally, it's my guess 3-4 minutes per side may be too long, especially over high heat.

        1. Seafood should never be defrosted in water, especially warm water. It ruins the texture and taste. Scallops are especially sensitive to water. You'll notice an improvement in your shrimp if you change methods as well.

          If you must defrost quickly, use cold running water only. For best texture and flavor they should be defrosted overnight in the refrigerator.

          1. Not sure how you cut them in half, but leaving them whole would have been a little better. I have never grilled scallops before outside (be afraid of losing them thru the grill!), but I'm with the posters who thought 3-4 minutes per side was too long. Maybe indirect heat would have worked better (coals banked at the sides, pan of water underneath the center, keep your seafood at the center over the pan).

            1. I think you overcooked your scallops big time. They're very prone to overcooking and get horribly tough.

              I'm thinking they need 3 minutes total (at most) to cook. About a minute to a minute and a half per side should do it. And leave them whole, don't cut them in half. Keep a close eye on them.

              The perfect scallop is juuuust cooked through barely in the middle.

              1. try letting them defrost in the fridge over night; i put some in a ziplock with my marinade or seasonings and when I get home they are usually ready to cook...

                1. Funny, I just bought some yesterday at TJ's. I did a price check on them, too, since they weren't listed. There were three kinds. Jumbo (turns out these are individually priced, on the back), wild "sashimi grade" Japanese scallops (20-30 count)in a 1 lb bag for $9.99? (I have it in my hand right now - if you want nutritional info go ahead and ask), and 1 lb bag of much smaller Chinese scallops ($6.99?), but I saw more ice crystals stuck on them, so I got the "sashimi grade".

                  Carefully defrosted in the fridge but still slightly frozen. We'll see.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: grocerytrekker

                    Okay, the verdict.
                    I did everything I could.
                    Defrosted for 1 full day in the fridge, dabbed dry, salted and peppered, and into a sizzling hot cast iron skillet with olive oil, only a few at a time. Garlic added a little later. Nicely seared and flipped. Barely a minute later, out they came.

                    Well, I liked it only because I like chewy. It sort of reminded me of dried squid. That may be a slight exaggeration, but my tastebud is spoiled by too many fresh, tender restaurant scallops only remotely resembling my dish.

                    I still wish you luck, DanielleM, you may end up a better chef than I am.

                    As for me, I don't think I'll buy it again anytime soon.

                    1. re: grocerytrekker

                      I just bought the Japanese scallops (with a ribeye from Costco, we had a delicious surf 'n turf!), ran cold water over them until they were mostly defrosted, wrapped them in paper towels while the pan got hot, them seared them on both sides in some butter and garlic. The outside edge was a little chewy, but the rest was nice and tender. Granted, not as tender as fresh scallops, but nowhere near as chewy as squid. We thought the flavor was terrific and we're looking forward to eating the rest.

                      1. re: leanneabe

                        Come to think of it, perhaps I should have tried a bite of it raw. It was "sashimi grade", after all, and they LOOKED fresh after being defrosted. And as you say, the inside was tender. And while the taste reminded me of dried squid, it really wasn't that tough. I'm sure you know exactly what I mean. Still, I'll buy frozen squid next time, and probably not frozen scallops.

                        1. re: grocerytrekker

                          I've had those exact frozen scallops and found their quality to be pretty bad. I defrosted slowly in fridge, dried thoroughly, etc., but they were just a bad product to start with. They had a fishy smell and exuded alot of water; texture was flabby and stringy even though I'm sure I didn't overcook.

                          I used to buy the TJ's Jumbo New England scallops and found them to be alright, although I haven't seen them in my store for a long time. After bad luck w/ their frozen shrimp too, I will now not buy any of their frozen seafood.

                          I agree w/ posters who say fresh scallops are the only way to go!

                    2. Thanks for the suggestions! The time to cook the scallops was based on a quick google search on 'grill scallops' (I think about.com or something?) I guess that was too long. I will try to defrost the scallops and shrimp differently; Unfortunately when I cook dinner I forget to plan ahead and needed a way to quickly defrost something.

                      From the types of scallops grocerytrekker mentioned, I got the Jumbo scallops, and I have about 3 left; and I also had purchased a bag of the sashimi grade japanese scallops. Hopefully my next try will be more successful.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: DanielleM

                        if you need to quickly defrost seafood, do it in cold water, not warm. Also, make sure that the scallops don't actually touch the water, be sure they are sealed in a ziplock. Then let the scallops drain on paper towels for a while, trying to blot up as much liquid as possible and dry them. I think pan seared scallops are a bit easier to cook than grilled ones.

                        1. re: DanielleM

                          your google search had four minutes as the total time not each side......

                        2. I only use scallops for ceviche, so I never cook them, but they don't take long. I've done sauteed for clients many times. Not even 2 minutes a side. It's hard to tell, don't know how hot your fire was, gas or charcoal, direct or indirect?

                          I would sear high heat 1.5 minutes per side. They continue to cook after you take them off. You can push on them with your finger to test doneness. You want them tender, not hard.

                          1. I'd reccomend cooking them in an incredibly hot cast-iron skillet with a mix of olive oil and butter. You get a great crust that way and you'll control the temp better than you can with a grill. Just a minute or so per side, uncovered pan. And remember, they do keep cooking once you take them off the heat so it's better to err of the side of undone.

                            1. Those scallops aren't "jumbo" enough to require slicing in half. So keep them whole, do as others have said with the defrosting, get the pan lightning hot, and don't go more than 2 minutes a side. Just when you see some color, take them off. If you want a great recipe for scallops that won't overcook go to the January issue of Food & Wine for a celery root and chestnut soup with Spanish chorizo. You put slices of raw scallops at the bottom of the bowls, and they poach in the hot soup. They're perfect!

                              1. I too only use cold water, keeping a close eye on them. When they are ready, I seperate the scallops, and once they are thawed I pat them down and dry them very well.

                                I usually make a hot curry sauce with the scallops, (unless its summer then we grill them) but they go into the sauce and are poached with shrimp and only for a few minutes. They remain sweet and tender with this process.

                                If I were to sear them, I would lightly brush them with olive oil, then hit them with high heat for a very short time on each side, and remove them quickly.

                                1. agreed with all of the above posters about how quickly scallops cook and not slicing them. they definitely are too delicate to grill.

                                  unfortunately, frozen scallops will always have a different, and imho, an inferior texture than fresh.

                                  i'd use them in soups and stews. and don't waste your money on those little chinese bay scallops, again unless using for chowder.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                    I look forward to reports of the confirmed (published, peer-reviewed) data about frozen seafood. Years ago, I made my annual pilgrimage to Fisherman's Wharf, to get a slab of fresh halibut. The boat's owner, though, delightedly presented me with a block of solidly frozen fish, wrapped in white paper. She explained, facing my skepticism, that the damage done to seafood flesh by time in the hold is far greater than the damage done by her excellent new 'flash-freezer,' the installation of which she had finally been able to afford, after years of aspiration. "Finally," she said, "I can give my customers really great fish." Ever since, I have tried to taste carefully, and have never found a quality issue caused by freezing. Sure, freezing can be done badly, and surely, the best way to eat seafood is in the stateroom, cooked as soon as it is pulled from the water, but my grocery store is not that close to the fishing-ground. Besides, I get seasick.
                                    I look forward to citation of actual research, but, until I see it, I remain of the belief that the "fresh is better" meme is past its pull-date by a couple of decades.

                                    1. re: mrnelso

                                      admittedly i am spoiled living in new england, but i also wouldn't compare scallops, which are delicate, to the meaty and solid fish that is halibut.

                                      buying frozen anything in a store? you have no idea how many times the darn thing has nearly thawed, totally thawed and then been re-frozen. crap shoot.

                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                        I dont think its about frozen or defrosting, its about scallops being placed into a solution(forget the name) before they are frozen. This solution, makes the scallops more plump due to the fact they retain water, therefore they weigh more. The liquid will only come out during cooking, as a result, you will never get seared/browned scallops.

                                  2. Although I much prefer fresh shrimp, frozen shrimp can be acceptable if used in a dish with sauce or dressing, but frozen scallops? Yuck! I've never even seen them frozen, and can't imagine such a thing. They're just mush too physically fragile and delicate-tasting to suffer the abuse of freezing. In fact, they're at their best right off the boat with minimum time in the pan. If you can't do fresh, skip scallops altogether.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: MommaJ

                                      agree- mistake to buy frozen scallops !

                                      1. re: MommaJ

                                        Actually, I guy frozen scallops from Linton's on the E. Coast and Fisherman's Express in Alaska and find them excellent.

                                      2. All y'all don't live out in the desert, do you? Nuthin' BUT frozen out here. (And they need to be drydrydrydrydry before searing, grill or saute pan. Not an easy trick when they've been frozen)

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Alice Letseat

                                          Exactly. I live in North Dakota. Zero chance of getting fresh scallops. We gotta work with what we got.

                                        2. Though I'm a longtime scallop lover, I've never tried them on a grill. As others suggest, it's usually recommended thawing them in cold tap water or overnight in the fridge.

                                          I heat a pan, with oil in it, 2-3 minutes over low-medium heat. Then I turn the heat to low and cook jumbo scallops about 5 minutes a side, 4 minutes a side for medium. They turn out excellent every time. Some people prefer them rather raw in the middle, but I like the flavor better cooked through.

                                          1. The truth is--something like 99% of all grocery store scallops that are sold as "fresh" have been frozen at one point. Just because they aren't frozen when you buy them at your local grocery doesn't mean they weren't frozen at one time. Are people going down to the dock and buying them off a boat or what? I have found frozen scallops to be quite fine in texture, nothing like bad squid (though good squid can be quite tender).

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: indypoetchef

                                              I copied this from o.chef.com.
                                              Q. Fresh scallops (when patted dry) sear beautifully in a matter of seconds. My "previously frozen" scallops always end up boiling in their own juices when I'm attempting to do a quick sauté in butter with garlic. Repeated draining of the frying pan: a. diminishes the flavor, and b. increases cooking time, making the scallops rubbery. In every instance, the end result is a "stewed" rather than "seared" scallop.
                                              A. Absolutely right. Most people ask us questions, but in the absence of one from you, we'll ramble on a bit about what happens. Actually, it's a very common effect of freezing, and you find it as much with meat and vegetables as with scallops. You may notice the change more with scallops, though, because they are so delicate and benefit from such brief cooking.

                                              As you know, when water freezes, it expands. When the water in foods freezes, it often bursts some of the cell walls that give the food its structure. When the food thaws, the water in those cells is free to run where it pleases, and in your case, that's right out of the scallops and all over the bottom of your pan.

                                              Generally, freezing doesn't harm the taste of a food, but it certainly can alter the texture. Some foods — those with thicker and stronger cell walls or those with less water content — hold up better to freezing than others. If you've ever inadvertently frozen a lettuce leaf, you noticed that it became a bruised, soggy mess as soon as it thawed — all the water inside it seeped out. Green beans, though, have less water and a stronger structure and hold up better to freezing. We have no objection to freezing chicken, for instance, but won't freeze a steak. You can freeze a steak, of course, but we notice enough of a change in texture with a frozen steak that we'd just as soon eat chicken.

                                              The solution for you then, is to sear fresh scallops as often as you can find them, and use frozen scallops in a casserole, stew or other dish that will benefit from a little extra moisture.

                                            2. While I prefer fresh, I have high heat pan seared scallops quite successfully -- even ones with added water.

                                              I thaw them overnight with some real mirin (or some other seasoning) in the fridge and drain well, saving the liquid for a sauce. Pat very dry, S&P, and sear very quickly. I've even done them still a little frozen in the middle.

                                              As for grilling, double skewer them (easier to turn).

                                              1. so there are a few things from what you said. by using warm water to defrost them you actually start cooking them before you even get them on the grill.

                                                Also, you may be better off by either lowering the temp on the grill, or shortening the time you cook them. scallops are very delicate and are easily over cooked. I hope these ideas help with the next batch of scallops.

                                                1. It was not you, it was the scallops. Those types of scallops are injected with a sollution that plumps them up, they loose all of the natural scallopy goodness. They also proably only needed to be grilled less then two minutes a side.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: normalheightsfoodie

                                                    TJ's frozen scallops, the American kind, are awful. I found them soft. They say no added ingredients like sodium tripolyphosphate, but they are still bad. Go for fresh. I did buy a bag of frozen Japanese scallops- they say sashimi quality. I have had defrosted Japanese scallops before, from my local Japanese market, snd they were great...at least as sashimi.

                                                  2. Do not thaw ! I know it says on the package to thaw, but do not. I just made these last night - Delicious!
                                                    Rinse briefly w COLD water, set on plate, heat a pan w olive oil , chppoed garlic, to searing level but not burning the oil, place scallops in HOT pan, cover cook 3min; Turn over scallops, sprinkle w chopped parsley, a little buttter, cover Cook 3 min again = DONE - Perfect Scallops w/ pink in the middle!

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: jcchef

                                                      Which ones did you get? I am thrilled and amazed at the report you can cook them frozen and get a good result. You didn't have all sorts of moisture come out like when they're sauteed once thawed? Did you get a brown on them? If this is true, I might be able to afford scallops again.

                                                      1. re: escondido123

                                                        TJ's New England - Wild Jumbo Scallops.
                                                        Yes . a thin browning, I use an All-Cladd Pan, a good pan is a must. No teflon , etc.
                                                        Good luck. I also some times sprinle with white wine at the end.
                                                        Chopped garlic, just for flavoring or seasoning the pan, not to actually be eaten.

                                                        1. re: jcchef

                                                          jcchef, wanted to update you on the TJ's scallops. Made them last week frozen and found them to be underdone on the inside, though still good. Last night, with the blackout, we pulled them out of the freezer, let them thaw on paper towels, and cooked with butter and olive oil, deglazing with white wine and some fresh thyme. They were really good that way so now I'm looking forward to them in the future. thanks so much for your help.

                                                    2. Nothing like fresh. That being said, I do use frozen giant sea scallops from time to time. But don't know the brand of which you speak.
                                                      I remove them from freezer and thaw in the fridge in a bowl of milk a couple of hours before using. Rinse and pat dry and either cook inside for whatever recipe, or grill - flash grill over indirect heat. I never use garlic with scallops either. Too intense for the sweet taste of the scallops. Alittle shallots, yes, but never garlic. Sorry. Just my take.

                                                      1. No no no. NEVER warm water. This will lead to all sorts of nasty potential stomach illness. Cold water running over the package or individual portions then pat dry and cook.

                                                        The amount of time cooked also sounds like it probably yielded a slightly chewy and under flavored result.

                                                        Scallops should never be cooked more than one and a half or two minutes per side. Your defrosting techniques needs to change if you want the best from your food (and your body)