Fine Cooking recommends buying “dry-packed” bay or sea scallops, which have an off-white or slightly pink color. Wet scallops, in comparison, are stark white due to the phosphate, a whitening agent, in the preservative.
When cooking, dry scallops will achieve a better sear. As Cooks Illustrated explains, when wet scallops hit the pan, they release the excess water absorbed in the preservation process. This steams the scallop rather than searing it, which gives the mollusk a rubbery texture while losing that sought-after golden crust.
According to Martha Stewart, regardless of which scallop you chose, gently press them with a paper towel to absorb any excess moisture before dropping them in a hot pan — using oil with a high smoke-point and taking care not to crowd the scallops. These added steps at the start of the cooking process will help you pull off the crucial sear.
While wet scallops keep longer because of the added preservatives, dry scallops have the benefit of being fresher. The price of dry scallops may be eye-popping at check out, but it’s important to remember that wet scallops carry more fluid, so you could end up paying more for mere water weight … and less flavor.