Your guide to get the most perfectly seared scallops!
Why are Pan-Seared Scallops so intimidating???
This is the question I have asked myself about pan seared scallops for years! The last thing you want is a rubbery scallop that's lacking that sweet scallop flavor that everyone loves so much! And on the aesthetic side, achieving that beautiful sear that has a light crunch and holds all the flavor is critical to the perfect scallop dish.
If you love seared scallops as much as we do, then check out our recipes for Creamy Pesto Pasta with Seared Scallops, Seared Scallop Pasta with Vanilla Grapefruit Cream Sauce, or Scallops with Golden Romesco Sauce and Black Rice.
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. The bay scallops are just too small and rarely cook perfectly for our tastes.
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 on your scallops
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.
If you want to make this with olive oil instead of butter, check out this recipe for Cast Iron Scallops.
Top Tip: The trick for that nice crust...
Place your scallops in the pan and cook for 60-90 seconds per side undisturbed. This is for thick, large scallops (about 1”). They will be a medium rare doneness, which is how we prefer them with an opaque center. After 2 min of cooking, things go downhill really quickly. No one likes an overcooked scallop!
You should serve these immediately, so make sure you prepped with all 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.
It is best to cook scallops until they reach an internal temp of 115°F. Because of the scallops small size, this will only take about 1-2 minutes per side for thick, large scallops approximately 1u0022 thick. The carryover will be about 10-15°F reaching the perfect internal temp of 125-130°F for scallops according to America's Text Kitchen.
To get the best sear, make sure you pat your scallops dry. Excess moisture on the outside of scallops will prevent searing. Additionally, make sure your pan is VERY hot before placing your scallops in it. Finally, allow the scallops to cook undisturbed on each side - resist the urge to move them around while they cook.
Cooking scallops in butter will give them a nice buttery flavor. The only setback with cooking them in butter is that butter browns very quickly at high heat, but we love the nutty brown butter flavor on our scallops, so this isn't big deal for us. You can, of course, use a neutral oil with a high smoke point instead, such as grapeseed or avocado oil.
If you try this recipe for Perfectly Seared Scallops, 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!
Need more seafood recipes?