Seared scallops are incredibly easy to make at home and insanely delicious. Learn how to make seared scallops right here with a few simple tips. Ten minutes is all you need to make restaurant quality (and even better) scallops.
Scallops are so tasty with their slightly sweet flavor and tender/delicate texture. So many people love to order them in the restaurant but completely scared to cook them at home.
What throws people off is probably the price. Scallops can be quite expensive and the better the quality, the more expensive they get. I would be really scared to mess something up after spending so much money too. But I’m here to reassure you that seared scallops are incredibly easy to make and they cook so fast.
You also don’t need any crazy ingredients, just dry scallops, olive oil, butter, garlic, salt, and pepper. If you’re feeling like adding a little more flavor, finish the scallops with some fresh parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice. (But that’s completely optional.)
WHAT KIND OF SCALLOPS TO GET?
Wait, what do you mean “dry scallops?”
The most important recommendation that I can make when it comes to buying scallops is to make sure you get “dry” scallops. Check the label for that information and if it’s not available, ask the specialist at the seafood counter.
So let’s learn a little about all those terms you might find on the label:
Dry scallops (this is what you want)
Dry scallops have not been soaked in any chemical solution and therefore are slightly darker in color. They will have the best natural taste through, no excess liquid, and cook beautifully. This is the best scallops for searing because no excess liquid will come out to hinder the sear. (Note, that there will be some natural liquids coming out, just not in excess.)
These scallops have been soaked in a phosphate solution that whitens them. It makes them absorb more liquid and therefore, weigh more. So when you buy these scallops, you are paying more money for water. They also do not sear as well and give out a lot of liquid when bake. Try your best to stay away from “wet scallops” and look for “dry-packed” or “chemical free” labels.
Many stores and packages will have a number next to the scallops and shrimp, for example 36/40 or 21/25. These numbers indicate the amount of scallops or shrimp you will get in 1 pound. So smaller number will mean that the size of scallops will be bigger, and bigger number will mean that the size will be smaller.
You may also see a label that states “U10” or “U15” and all that means is “under.” So there are under 10 scallops in a pound or under 15 scallops in a pound. That is also a size indication.
These are the big scallops and sometimes they are called “jumbo.” These big boys can be as big as 2 inches in diameter and as small as 1 inch. They are perfect for searing or baking.
They are smaller scallops that are found in shallow waters. These scallops can be as small as 1/2 inch in diameter and don’t get bigger than 3/4 inch. Because of the small size, they are not suited for searing because they cook fast and can easily be overcooked and turned rubbery.
These can range in size but are more expensive. Most scallops are picked but a boat that is dragging a net along the ocean floor but diver scallops are picked by hand. Divers will usually hand-pick the biggest, fully grown scallops and that’s reflected in the price.
Fresh vs frozen
This is not as clear-cut as you might think. If you live on the coast, you may have bought frozen scallops straight from the fishermen. Most local fishermen flash-freeze seafood as soon as they catch it to preserve it. You will still get the freshest seafood this way but it will be frozen.
When it comes to fresh, seafood is truly fresh when the market gets it within a day or two and you buy it right away. Otherwise, supermarkets may label it “fresh, never frozen” but it could be several days old. It all comes down to the reputation and the market that you trust.
If you have no way of getting fresh scallops, you can purchase it frozen. In this case, always thaw them slowly, overnight in the refrigerator. Cook them the next day after it’s thawed and do not re-freeze.
HOW TO MAKE THEM
Pat dry: rinse off scallops with cold water and pat each one dry with a paper towel. If there are any scallops that have the side muscle attached, simply remove it. (Side muscle cooks tough and it’s unpleasant to eat.)
Season: season them with salt and pepper on both sides.
Preheat pan and oil: this is an important step so don’t rush it. Make sure to preheat the cooking pan first over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and let it heat through until you start to see a little smoke (it should take less than a minute).
Don’t crowd them: place scallops into the skillet but leave some room in between each one. To ensure a nice sear, you shouldn’t overcrowd them.
Do not move them: Once you place scallops into the pan, do not move or touch them until ready to flip. Add butter slices around the skillet and let it melt as scallops cook.
Sear: Let them sear for about 2 minutes (a few seconds more or a few seconds less depending on the size).
Flip: Flip each scallops in the same order as you put them in the skillet. Add minced garlic all around the pan too and let it cook with the butter. You can gently shake the pan to spread the garlic.
Sear: let them sear for another 2 minutes and take out of the pan. Spoon some of the butter from the pan over the scallops.
CAN I COOK FROZEN SCALLOPS?
You have to make sure that scallops are completely thawed. Pull them out of the freezer the night before and let them thaw slowly in the refrigerator.
WHAT TO PAIR WITH SCALLOPS
A fork and a knife…that’s usually my go to pairing with scallops. All joking aside, side dish options are limitless.
Light sides – roasted asparagus, green beans, salad with a white wine vinaigrette, or seared greens like chard, mustard greens, or kale.
Wine pairing for seared scallops:
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- 1 lb "dry" sea scallops
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- black pepper
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter sliced into smaller pieces
- 3 garlic cloves smashed and minced
- 1/2 tbsp minced parsley
- 2 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
- Rinse off scallops with cold water and pat each one dry with a paper towel. If there are any scallops that have the side muscle attached, simply remove it. (Side muscle cooks tough and it’s unpleasant to eat.)
- Season scallops with salt and pepper on both sides.
- Preheat a cooking pan first over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and let it heat through until you start to see a little smoke (it should take less than a minute).
- Place scallops into the skillet but leave some room in between each one. To ensure a nice sear, don't overcrowd them.
- Do not move or touch them until ready to flip. Add butter slices around the skillet and let it melt as scallops cook.
- Sear scallops for about 2 minutes (a few seconds more or a few seconds less depending on the size).
- Flip each scallop in the same order as you put them in. Add minced garlic all around the pan too and let it cook. You can gently shake the pan to spread the garlic.
- Let scallops sear for another 1.5-2 minutes and take them out of the pan.
- Spoon some of the butter from the pan over the scallops.
- Optional: a few seconds before scallops are ready, add parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice to the pan and gently shake the pan to mix.