Why do my fresh scallops come from all distributors in round, metal paint cans? I have even called our supplier, and they have no idea why.
– Tom Ferri, Owner, The Watermark and Olives, Chautauqua, N.Y.
Physics. As you know, scallops are highly perishable and the colder they are kept, the slower their spoilage. Terence Molloy with Chesapeake Bay Packing in Newport News, Virginia says, “A real short answer to your question is that the metal cans do a much better job of conducting the cold temperature to the product. Generally the product is shipped in ice throughout the distribution process. When the tins are submerged in ice, the metal cans do a much better job of keeping the product cold than a plastic tub would.”
In addition, the small size of the container allows the cold to penetrate quickly and the watertight lid allows the scallops to be chilled by an ice bath without becoming waterlogged, important for having them take on their beloved sear.
As for the history of the package, I haven’t found a definitive history. I think it’s one part tradition, and one part nothing better having come along, though some suppliers use shallow plastic tubs.