Your guide to get the most perfect sear on scallops!
Why are Pan-Seared Scallops so intimidating???
This is the question I have asked myself about pan seared scallops for years! I’ve seen people cook them, I’ve eaten them sooooooo many times, and then I would try to make them and they would turn out rubbery or lacking that sweet scallop flavor that I love so much! And on the aesthetic side, I could never achieve that beautiful sear that has a light crunch and holds ALLLLLL the flavor.
You may be looking at the photo here and screaming at this point…. JUST TELL US YOUR SECRETS! Patience child, we are getting there! (Or just click the “Skip to Recipe” link above…). Before we get there, let’s talk scallops for a minute.
What should I look for when buying scallops?
The key to an amazing pan seared scallop begins at the grocery store. Don’t just go to any rinky dink store. Make sure those babies are fresh! Here are some FAQs on scallops:
How do I know if my market has fresh scallops?
Simple. Just ask at the fish counter! You should ask when the store received the scallops. Most stores give you an honest answer. If they are more than a couple days old, ask when they are getting their next shipment, and plan another meal for tonight.
Should I buy fresh or frozen scallops?
We are of the opinion that you should always try to find fresh, never frozen scallops. If you can’t find them in the store fresh, frozen will work, but make sure they were flash frozen or individually quick frozen (IQF) and were not treated with a solution that preserves them, aka, “wet” scallops. You can learn more about “wet” vs “dry” scallops here.
What kind of scallops are the best?
We prefer diver scallops compared to farmed scallops. And we rarely buy the small bay scallops unless we are putting them in some kind of fish stew, or cioppino.
What color should a scallop be?
Most scallops will fall in the milky white to coral pink range. This has no effect on the taste of the scallop, and everything to do with male scallops vs female scallops during the spawning period. If the scallop looks dull and gray, it is likely old, so avoid these.
Should scallops smell “fishy?”
Short answer, no! They should have a slightly sweet, sea-like smell, but not ever fishy. If the smell is pungent and makes you gag, DO NOT EAT THESE.
How to get that perfect sear
Now to the fun part! Let’s get cooking!
First, you will want to rinse the scallops and dry them completely. Do not soak, EVER! Just rinse and dry. If your scallops have a little piece of meat that looks like a small flap on the side, remove it. This in the abductor muscle and will be very tough if you try to cook it and eat it. These will easily pull right off. Your cats will love this piece of the scallop though, so go ahead and make your fur babies happy and share the love!
Next, season the scallops on both flat sides with salt and pepper. Don’t go overboard with the salt. You can always add a little finishing salt at the end if you need more. Remember, salt is a flavor enhancer, so salt should only be used to enhance the flavors you create, not as a flavor itself. Find our favorite finishing salt here or here.
Get out your favorite nonstick skillet (we like these) and turn up the heat! You want this pan to be really hot to properly sear the scallops. From our experience, cast iron gets too hot, and stainless steel may ruin your sear completely if the scallops stick to the pan. So we say stick to nonstick. 🙂 Add a tablespoon of butter and let it melt until it starts to brown. You want just enough butter so the pan isn’t dry.
Here’s the trick for that nice crust: lightly dredge the top and bottom of each scallop in a little flour. Just the smallest amount! And tap off any excess flour. You aren’t trying to bread these babies! You are just trying to get a thin layer to get a little crust. Do not flour the sides, leave them naked.
Place the scallops in the pan on one of the flat sides for 90 seconds. Once they are in the pan, DO NOT MOVE THEM AROUND. Just let them sit there in all their glory! If the scallops you bought are fairly large and thick, go ahead and cover the pan for the first 30 s. After 90 s, gently turn the scallops over using tongs to avoid ruining the sear. Let them cook for another 90 s (up to 2 min max on this side depending on how done you like them). Again, cover the pan for about 30 s if you have thick scallops. After 90 s, they will be a medium rare doneness, but after 2 min, things go downhill really quickly. No one likes an overcooked scallop!
You should serve these immediately, so make sure you prepped all your other side dishes before cooking the scallops. We like to have a couple lemon wedges handy to add a touch of citrus at the table.
If you try this recipe out, please let us know your thoughts! And feel free to tag us on Instagram (@cooking_with_wine) so we can see your cooking skills in action!
Perfectly Seared Scallops
Your guide to the most perfectly pan seared scallops!
- 14-16 Scallops
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp all purpose flour
- lemon wedges
Rinse scallops and pat dry.
Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Lightly dredge the top and bottom (the flat part) of each scallop in flour sprinkled on a plate. Shake off excess flour.
Place a nonstick pan over high heat. Melt just enough butter in the pan so the pan is not dry. Melt until slightly brown. The pan should be very hot before you put the scallops in.
Place the scallops in the pan for 90 seconds. Do not move the scallops around. If your scallops are thick, cover with a lid for the first 30 seconds.
After 90 s, turn the scallops gently using tongs so they don't lose their crust, and cook for another 90 s on the other side. Cover with a lid if the scallops are thick for the first 30 s. The scallops will be cooked with a slightly rare-medium rare center at this point. You can continue to cook for 2 min if you prefer them to be closer to medium (We prefer them closer to rare).
Serve immediately with some lemon wedges to add a touch of citrus and sprinkle with finishing salt to taste.