The French word pétoncle, which denotes all scallops other than the great scallop, comes from the Latin pectunculus, meaning "small comb". The name pecten in the great scallop's botanical name is derived from the same term.

Since humans have existed, they have eaten scallops, with their shells serving as money, tools, and ornaments. The Ancient Greeks saw the scallop shell as a fertility symbol.

The French name coquilles Saint-Jacques dates back to the Middle Ages: pilgrims traveling to Santiago de Compostela on the Way of Saint James (Saint-Jacques) used scallop shells for drinking, eating, and begging; hence the name. It became a symbol of piety and was found on Crusader coats of arms.

Great scallops: 

These are sold in baskets with an average weight of 12 kg, containing some 35–40 pieces.

The label on the basket must state the name (Pecten maximus), the place and date of capture, and the authorization for sale.

Other scallop varieties:

These are often sold without their shell, fresh or frozen. Their flesh should be a creamy color and light, moist, and shiny. For frozen scallops, these should not have any signs of freezer burn or drying out.

Shelled great scallops:

These are sold throughout the year, either frozen or fresh. They often undergo treatment (soaking in a preservative solution) which makes them absorb 50% of the surrounding water (prepared for cooking). This process is banned in France.

What is sold as great scallops without their shells may also be other kinds of scallops. The name of the species and its origin must be stated on the label.

They are commonly used in all ready made dishes marketed by the agri-food industry. 

Great scallops are sold alive with the shell closed. If one is open, simply pressing on it with a finger should be enough to close it.

They should be heavy, give off a pleasant smell, have translucent byssal threads, and a very shiny white adductor muscle. Depending on the season, the coral can be substantial.

They may contain sand if they were caught in a period of large swells. These do not keep very well.

Shelled great scallops should be very white and firm. It is important to verify their origin.

The same goes for other scallop species.

Scallops are not seasoned before cooking because salt and condiments speed up water loss, leading them to dry out and the appearance of white spots on their surface.

They are cooked very quickly – seared in a pan or on a griddle, or baked in a hot oven. They go well with leeks, Belgian endives, and truffles.

They are excellent raw, as carpaccio.

Great scallops may be replaced with other scallops varieties, but they will never offer the same quality of flavor.

Like all living shellfish, scallops kept flat and tightly closed in a basket or metal container can be stored in a cool room for up to one week.

Once their shells have been removed, the scallop meat can be kept in a dry cloth tightly packed against one another to maintain their shape. They should be used within a few hours.

Shelled scallops can be kept for up to three days in a cool place. 

Scallops are low in calories and high in proteins and minerals. They also contain B group vitamins.

Although the French word coquille Saint-Jacques refers to the great scallop, the WTO authorized the use of Saint-Jaques for all scallop varieties in 1996.

. Great or king scallop Great or king scallop (Pecten maximus)

Great scallops are mainly found in the English Channel and the North-east Atlantic (from Norway to Morocco) in beds on the sandy bottoms at 20–50 m in depth. They are harvested by dredging.

Capture of great scallops is strictly controlled in France: it is only allowed between October 1 through May 15, two days per week and 45 minutes per day by boats no larger than 13 m in length with maximum 2 m long dredges. The capture of scallops less than 10 cm in size is banned.

Harvesting of scallops is allowed all year round in other countries.

French great scallops are only sold during their season, April through October. Outside of this period, scallops imported from the Channel Islands, England, Scotland, and Ireland are available.  

Other scallop varieties

Scallops other than great scallops are found in almost every sea on the planet. There are many different varieties in different shapes and sized, including:

. Chlamys varia (8 cm) France, harvesting is controlled (November through March)

. Argopecten purpuratus (Canada, Peru, and Chile)

. Chlamys farreri and Chlamys nobilis (China)

. Chlamys varia (variegated scallop) and Chlamys opercularis (queen scallop): Europe

. Placopecten magellanicus (Atlantic sea scallop: 15–30 cm): Canada

. Chlamys islandicus (Iceland)

. Patino pecten yessoensis (Japan)

These are available all year round.

Outside of France, varieties other than the great scallop are used most, as they are much more common. Marine stocks are decreasing and scallops are being farmed in Quebec, Chile, Japan, and China.