Why Pan Seared Scallops Would Be My Last Meal on Earth:
Yes, you read that right! Pan seared scallops are hands down my favorite protein to cook and eat! Here’s why we love them so much:
- Scallops cook quickly! 1 minute per side for average size scallops (about 1 – 1 ½ inches in diameter) or 2 minutes per side for the extra large scallops!
- They’re innately sweet and smell like the ocean (fresh is best!).
- Seared scallops have both a delicate texture in the center, but a crusty, golden brown exterior that can’t be beat.
But First, What Are Scallops?
Scallops are a type of mollusk, or shellfish, in the same bivalve family as mussels, clams, and oysters. What you’re eating when you cook scallops is the muscle between the two shells (whose shape is scalloped, by the way! thus the name!). The scallop is the white, meaty part of the animal (referred to as the adductor muscle), and it is what causes the shell to open and close.
When cleaning fresh scallops, you’ll often need to remove a tiny piece of tissue that is just kind of hanging on the side. It will feel a bit tougher than the rest of the scallop, but is very easy to remove. Simply pull it away from the scallop with your fingers. Easy! Most fish mongers will have already cleaned scallops they’re selling (pictured below, just the edible muscle), but if you are lucky enough to find scallops still in their shell, you’ll have to remove the little extra piece and discard. This article helps explain!
What You Need to Make the Best Scallops
The truth is you need VERY little. Fresh, high quality scallops, kosher salt, some paper towels, and a neutral oil, such as grapeseed, canola, or vegetable oil.
Of course you can add butter (we love to add butter to the hot pan after flipping the scallops, more on this below!) or fresh herbs, such as rosemary or thyme, but this is an added bonus, not a necessity.
Let’s Talk Pans
If you want to make pan seared scallops that have a crispy, golden brown crust every single time, you need the right pan. So what is the best pan for searing scallops?
You have a few options! Cast iron and stainless steel are generally the way to go. Particularly with scallops, stainless steel, which responds to changes in heat better than cast iron, can help monitor and regulate fluctuations in temperature, which is important when you want a perfect sear. While we do not generally recommend nonstick pans for searing any proteins — scallops, steak, chicken, etc. — this SearSmart Fusion Pro by GreenPan (pictured below) is a unique mashup of nonstick and anodized aluminum. What exactly does that mean? It’s got all the power of a heavy bottom cast iron skillet, but the delicate nature of a nonstick. LOOK AT THAT SEAR.
I will never sear scallops in anything else, ever again. Period, the end.
How to Cook Scallops (Yes, You Can!)
Follow these simple tips to learn how to sear scallops like a pro! Okay, now that we’ve discussed pans, let’s follow up with oil. What type of oil should you use to cook scallops? A light, neutral oil with a high smoke point. You’re going to have to get the pan screaming hot before you add the scallops. If you cook with extra virgin olive oil, it will smoke immediately. Instead, reach for grapeseed oil, canola oil, or vegetable oil.
When I cooked in NYC restaurant kitchens, grapeseed oil is the only kind we used for cooking and frying. Olive oil was ONLY to finish dishes.
How Long to Cook Scallops
GREAT QUESTION. The last thing we want is to overcook our scallops. That would be sacrilege. No, here’s what we’re going to do instead.
- Make sure the pan is really freakin’ hot. Let it heat up for a couple minutes, then add neutral oil. Just enough to coat the bottom of the pan lightly. If you’re using a 12-inch skillet as we did here, you’ll need about 3-4 Tablespoons oil. If you’re cooking for one or two and using an 8-inch skillet, you may only need 2-3 Tablespoons. It depends on the size of the pan!
- Add scallops that have dried on a paper towel and been seasoned generously with kosher salt to the pan, then cook for 1 minute undisturbed. If you’re lucky enough to get large sea scallops (we’re talking 2″ in diameter!), sear for 2 minutes undisturbed, until there is a golden brown crust.
Set a timer. Do whatever you need to do, but after 1-2 minutes, flip them.
Now is the time to add butter and/or fresh herbs (such as rosemary), if using. Cook for 1-2 minutes more (again, based on size!). Want to make a quick pan sauce for the seared scallops? COOL, I GOT YOU.
Pan Sauce for Scallops
If you added butter to the pan, use a spoon and immediately begin to spoon the melted butter on top of the seared scallops. After 60 seconds, remove from heat, transfer to a plate or platter, then pour over as much of the melted browned butter sauce as you like!
Garnish with a tiny bit of flaky sea salt if you’re into that (I certainly am!) and serve with a sprinkling of chopped parsley and some lemon wedges.
What to Serve with Pan Seared Scallops
Seared scallops are like an adult version of candy; they’re sweet, succulent, and extremely luxurious. Pan seared scallops are wonderful with salty flavors that contrast, for instance served over warmed lentil salad with bacon. And they are an obvious pairing with pastas or orzo with lemon and fresh herbs.
Want to keep things even simpler? I could eat a plate of seared scallops, a few hearty spoonfuls of cherry tomato confit, and a big piece of crusty baguette and call it a day. Dream meal, right there. Low stress, but delicious.
If you make Pan Seared Scallops, please let me know by leaving a rating and review below.
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For more essential cooking techniques, check out the following!
- How to roast chickpeas
- Crispy roasted brussel sprouts
- How to make quick pickled red onions
- Perfect 7 minute soy sauce ramen eggs
- How to cook a frenched rack of lamb
Pan Seared Scallops
- 1 lb dry sea scallops about 11-13 scallops, see note below
- 3 Tbsp grapeseed, canola, or vegetable oil
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- Kosher salt
- 1 Tbsp fresh parsley chopped
- Lemon wedges for serving
- Flaky sea salt
- Season scallops generously on both sides with kosher salt, then place on a paper towel lined plate and let sit for 15 minutes.
- Gently pat scallops dry, then season again lightly on one side with kosher salt.
- Heat skillet over high heat. Pictured here is a 12" GreenPan skillet. The pan needs to be large enough so that scallops do not touch in the pan. When hot, add grapeseed or canola oil. Carefully place scallops in pan, leaving at least 1" between them. Cook for 1 minute undisturbed. (**If your scallops are very large (about 2" in diameter), cook for 2 minutes per side. You'll know they're ready to flip if you test one and it has a dark golden brown crust.)
- Add butter to pan, then flip scallops and cook for exactly 1 minute more. Spoon melted, browned butter on top of scallops as they finish cooking.
- Transfer scallops to a plate. Spoon or pour on as much of the remaining pan sauce as you like. Sprinkle a few flakes of sea salt on top of each scallop. garnish with chopped parsley, then serve with lemon wedges.
- Make sure you buy DRY sea scallops, not wet scallops. Dry scallops are those that are untreated with any chemicals and are the ONLY way to guarantee that beautiful golden brown sear.
- If using frozen scallops, allow to thaw completely overnight in a refrigerator before proceeding with recipe. Take note, however, that most frozen scallops are WET scallops and have been treated with sodium tripolyphosphate, which means that even if you follow the instructions above, they may not sear properly.
- If your sea scallops are very large and thick, they may take up to 1 ½ minutes on the first side, but this is atypical. Most sea scallops will be ready to flip after 1 minute on high heat heat in a stainless steel, cast iron, or anodized pan.
For more seafood recipes, check out the followingClassic spaghetti alle vongole Grilled clams and lobster tails Spicy crab pasta with lemon and capers Pan seared salmon with lemon parmesan sauce Fish escabeche