Seafood for dinner?

by Blair
Publish date
7 March 2011
Comments (3)

This post is another in our special series during the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.

Sometimes I wonder how we eat the seafood we do.

Take scallops, for example. With their plump and juicy meat, they are coveted for our dinner plates and in top restaurants around the world. But what are we really eating?

Well, there’s the shell, more for presentation than eating, characteristically circular with ridges radiating from a rectangular hinge that holds the animal protected inside.

Shells of edible scallops Shells of edible scallops, Pecten fumatus from 1970s Fisheries material.
Source: Museum Victoria

And there’s the body. Unlike oysters, they don’t sit tight and daintily nurture pearls. Instead, they focus on moving small distances by squirting jets of water from between their shell halves, building muscle mass inside equivalent to a bodybuilder’s bicep, all for our eating pleasure (and also to flap away from predators like octopuses and sea stars I guess).

Scallops for sale at Victoria Market Scallops for sale at the Queen Victoria Market. The white part is mostly muscle, while the orange part is known as 'roe'.
Source: Museum Victoria

And what is that orange-brown blobby bit that tastes so gelatinously good? Gonads. A factory that pumps out hundreds of eggs and sperm into the water with the hope that some don’t get eaten or swept away into unsuitable habitat.

But sitting on the bottom in sand or silty mud can attract parasitic friends like trematodes and nematodes. (I won’t go into how many fish parasites a scientist sees under a microscope or you may never eat sushi again.)

Is it revolting to eat the disgusting? I suspect not, so long as some chef goes about his or her masterful ways to clean and transform the disgusting into the delicious.

Oh and if you’re interested...

Scallops probably have the most eyes in the animal kingdom – they can have hundreds of eyes along the edge of their mantle. Exactly what sort of pictures they see we cannot be sure. Their shells reach about 14 cm in length and they live on shallow sandflats to waters over 100 metres deep. Their diet of floating food, such as plankton, is filtered from the water. Some species move short distances, others make more permanent homes on the reef, often becoming so encrusted with coral and sponge growth that they are barely recognisable. They were commercially harvested in Port Phillip Bay until 1996, nowadays they are taken from Bass Strait. Several species were thought to occur within the range of the common variety we eat, Pecten fumatus, but recent genetic work suggests they are all the same species.

Comments (3)

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justin 7 March, 2011 14:48
Jo 7 March, 2011 17:25
Thanks for the heads up Blair! All the more reason to stick to crustaceans I reckon! Mind you, they can have some wicked parasites...a subject for your next blog perhaps?
Nathan Mitchell 7 March, 2011 19:54
I like your work Blair... are you the same Blair that was a MDC Volly once upon a time ? I heard or read once that the red/orange colour of the gonad is related to a parasite infection. 1/2 orange is normal - more is not.
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