The Perfect Pan Seared Scallops
Pan seared scallops are hands down my favorite protein to cook and eat! Quick enough to prep on busy weeknights, but also totally perfect for special occasions (date night, we see you!). 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 have an innately sweet flavor 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, remove the tiny side muscles from the side. It will feel a bit tougher than the rest of the scallop, but is very easy to remove. Simply pull the tissue away from the scallop with your fingers. This article helps explain!
What You Need to Make the Best Scallops
The truth is you need very little. Fresh, high quality sea scallops, Kosher salt, a few paper towels, and a neutral oil, such as grapeseed, canola, or vegetable oil. You can absolutely add freshly cracked black pepper too!
Adding butter to a hot pan after flipping the scallops is a great addition and the basis of many wonderful sauces, but for now we’re just overing how to sear scallops.
As far as equipment, you’ll want either a fish spatula or tongs to easily flip the scallops.
What’s The Best Pan For Searing Scallops?
If you want to make pan seared scallops that have a crispy, golden crust every single time, you need the right pan. You have a few options!
- Cast iron skillet 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.
- Can I use a nonstick skillet? While you can certainly use nonstick, you are much less likely to get a deep sear.
How to Cook Scallops (Yes, You Can!)
What type of oil should you use to cook scallops?
A light, neutral oil with a high smoke point. Extra virgin olive oil will begin to smoke immediately over high heat. 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 used to finish dishes.
How Long to Cook Scallops
The last thing you want is to overcook scallops!
- Make sure the pan is really hot. Let it heat for a couple minutes over high heat, 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 and scallops turn opaque.
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?
Pan Sauce for Scallops
Here’s how to make a super quick pan sauce for scallops: after you flip them over, add a few pats of unsalted butter. Immediately begin to spoon the melted butter on top of the seared scallops. It’ll bubble up and smell absolutely delicious!
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 (we certainly are!) and serve with a sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley and some lemon wedges.
If you’ve got a little more time, try making our lemon beurre blanc to pour on top! It’s a French butter sauce made with shallots, white wine, heavy cream, and fresh lemon juice, and it is perfect with every kind of seafood you can imagine!
Our Two Best Tips For Searing Scallops
The scallops must be dried on a paper towel before cooking! Place cleaned scallops on a paper towel lined plate in a single layer. Let them dry for 10 minutes, then flip and dry on the other side.
Also, make sure you buy dry sea scallops! Dry sea scallops have not been altered in any way, nor do they have water or additives injected, whereas wet sea scallops do. Why are scallops like this even sold? Simply to plump them up. But the latter will never ever sear properly, so don’t even try.
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.
Love surf and turf? Steak and scallops is a classic combo!
As far as side dishes, we recommend serving seared scallops over creamy mashed potatoes or polenta with simple roasted or grilled vegetables: asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, grilled summer squash. Nothing that will overwhelm the delicate flavor of the scallops.
More Scallop Recipes To Try!
- Broiled Scallops With Garlic Butter Sauce
- Scallop Crudo
- Lemon Garlic Pasta with Shrimp and Scallops
- Scallop Coconut Curry with basil and mint
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.
This post was originally published in July 2020. It has since been updated with additional tips, tricks, and information to make it easier to enjoy at home.