Written by Lisa Lin and Diann Leo-Omine. Photos by Lisa Lin.
Dried scallops are a key ingredient of what I’ve dubbed as Mama Lin’s “flavoring bits,” which often includes dried shrimp, Chinese sausage, and Chinese cured pork. Altogether, this flavor base is savory and adds oomph to Cantonese favorites like lo bak go (turnip/radish cake), wu tau go (taro cake), and sticky rice.
Ranging between a 1/4 inch to 1 inch in diameter, dried scallops impart lovely umami flavor to a dish and taste less fishy than dried shrimp. Don’t be fooled by their size and price: dried scallops offer a lot of bang for the buck!
There are many ways to say scallop in Chinese. The most common name is 江珧柱 or 江瑤柱, which can be used to describe fresh or dried scallops. (Note: 江珧柱 is pronounced gong yiew chu in Cantonese and jiang yao zhu in Mandarin.) They can also be called 乾貝 (traditional characters) or 干贝 (simplified), which literally means “dried shell.” In Cantonese, 乾貝 is pronounced gon bui; in Mandarin, it is gan bei. Romanized, dried scallops are referred to as conpoy.
According to Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen (affiliate link) by Yuan Wang, Warren Sheir, and Mika Ono, the role of seafood in Traditional Chinese Medicine is to boost qi (氣/气) or energy. Scallops have the properties of being cold and sweet and can be used to address issues like insomnia or dizziness.
HOW TO SELECT DRIED SCALLOPS
You can usually find them packaged in Asian supermarkets, particularly ones that sell Chinese food. More often than not, you’ll find them in the refrigerated sections of the grocery store. If you shop in a large Chinatown (like the one in San Francisco), you’ll be able to find dried scallops sold in bulk.
Like dried shrimp, larger scallops cost more than smaller ones. When buying dried scallops, select ones with an even light brown color. You do not want ones with a lot of tiny white specks on them. That’s usually an indication that they have been stored for a long time. If you’re ambitious, you can also make your own in the oven or a dehydrator.
HOW TO STORE
Refrigerate them in an airtight container, and they can last a good 4 to 5 months without the color fading. You can also freeze them for longer storage.
HOW TO USE
Because dried scallops are hard like rocks, you should generally rehydrate them before using. This means soaking them in water for a few hours, until they soften. You can also use hot water to soak the scallops to speed up the process. The larger the scallop, the more time they’ll need to be soaked.
Dried scallops can also be rehydrated by steaming in a wok or an Instant Pot, like in this recipe for XO sauce, as there’s the belief the scallops lose too much of their flavor by soaking in water. I personally don’t think the flavor is diluted too much by soaking in water, but you can try this method out and see what you think.
If you plan to use the scallops to make a broth or congee, where you’ll simmer everything for a long period of time, you don’t need to rehydrate them beforehand.
Typically, once the scallops are rehydrated, Mama Lin tears up the scallops into their smaller muscle fibers. This process is generally done by hand to shred the fibers up finely. Alternatively, if you’re shredding a larger quantity (like for my siu mai recipe), you can use a mortar and pestle or a food processor with a plastic dough blade. You can even use a pair of pliers to crush the dried scallops before rehydrating. However you shred the scallops, this step helps distribute the scallops to the entire dish.
Dried scallops pair well with egg whites in fried rice, and are a star ingredient in umami rich XO sauce. You can also stir fry them with e-fu noodles and mushrooms, which are eaten at the end of a Chinese banquet to symbolize longevity.
- Turnip cake
- Taro cake
- Jook/Congee (Rice Porridge)
- Cantonese Shumai (Siu Mai, 燒賣)
- Chinese-Style Instant Pot Sticky Rice (糯米飯)
- Steamed Chinese Sticky Rice (糯米飯)
Note: This post was originally published in 2018 and has been updated to include more information and photos.