Here’s the trick to how to cook pan seared scallops and get that perfect brown crust! Follow these simple tips for a fast and easy dinner.
Here’s how to make your favorite restaurant style scallops at home: easy Pan Seared Scallops! Scallops have a beautiful, mild sweet flavor that’s easy to love: and there’s nothing better than that perfect seared crispy outside. But let’s be straight about it. Scallops are easy to cook, but they’re tricky to get right. It takes a little know how to get that golden brown crust without under cooking or overcooking them. But once you know a few secrets…it’s very easy and takes only 5 minutes to cook. Here’s everything you need to know about pan seared scallops…done right.
The type of scallops to buy
Let’s start at the beginning. What type of scallops should you buy for this recipe? There are lots of options you’ll see at the store: here’s the scoop:
- Sea scallops: Sea scallops are large and the variety to use when pan searing. Avoid bay scallops: they very small and mainly used in stews.
- Fresh vs frozen scallops: You can use either! Many frozen scallops are wet (see below), but our method has a secret step that allows you to use either.
- Wet scallops vs dry scallops: Wet scallops are treated with water and sodium tripolyphosphate and then frozen, which can give them a soapy taste and bouncy texture (read more). Buy dry scallops if you can find them — but you also can freshen wet scallops using a trick! Keep reading.
- Wild caught vs farmed: Look for wild caught; its the most sustainable option. US caught is preferable if you’re in the US.
A secret to pan seared scallops: brine them!
OK, got your scallops? Great. Here’s a trick to making the best flavor for pan seared scallops. Brine them first! What does this mean? You’ll simply let them sit in a solution of salt water for 10 minutes before cooking. Why do you have to brine scallops?
- This freshens up the flavor of wet scallops. If you buy wet scallops, it evens out the flavor and removes the chemical taste. You can also add a little lemon juice to really get the flavor to pop.
- It helps season the inside of the scallop. If you just season before cooking, sometimes only the outside retains flavor.
How to thaw frozen scallops
Convinced on the brining step? Great. Just make sure that if you do buy frozen scallops, you thaw them completely before brining. Thinking ahead the day before is perfect, because they’ll be ready to go when you wake up. But if not, here’s a last minute trick to how to thaw scallops:
- Day before (best option): Simply place the frozen scallops in the refrigerator overnight.
- Day of (in a pinch): Keep the frozen scallops in the package or place them in a resealable plastic bag. Place the package of bag into a large bowl with cold water. The scallops should thaw in about 30 minutes.
What pan to use for seared scallops?
Last up: you’ve got to have the right equipment for seared scallops. Here’s what to know about the type of pan to use:
- Do not use a non-stick pan for seared scallops! The non-stick surface does not allow the scallops to stick to the surface of the pan, creating that gorgeous crust through the Maillard reaction.
- Use your largest stainless steel, copper, or cast iron skillet. You’ll want it to be as large as possible to be able to cook as many scallops as you can at once.
How to cook scallops: the master method
Now that you know the scallops to buy, the pan to use, and the secret brining step: let’s make pan seared scallops! Here’s what to know about how to cook scallops:
- Pat the scallops dry! This is perhaps the most important step. If there’s any water on the scallops, they will steam instead of browning. This is a huge no-no!
- Keep the scallops as far apart as possible in the pan. You may find you need to do 2 batches. If the scallops are touch, they also risk steaming instead of browning.
- Cook for 2 to 3 minutes without touching them! Yes, just stand back and don’t do anything. Do not move the scallops around in the pan! Not moving the scallop allows the brown crust to form. This is called the Maillard reaction, a chemical reaction that creates that beautifully browned flavor on seared proteins.
- Flip and cook another 2 to 3 minutes without touching. Same deal, this forms the crust on the other side!
And voila! Perfectly seared scallops that are crispy golden brown on each side. See, it wasn’t that hard!
Top with Lemon Herb Sauce, if desired
Want to add a sauce to these beautifully pan seared scallops? Great! The technique for this is to remove the scallops from the pan, make the sauce, and then add them back to the warmed sauce. There’s a separate recipe for that: it’s a very easy lemon herb sauce! To make it, go to Lemon Herb Sauce for Scallops.
Make it a meal: what to serve with pan seared scallops!
Here’s the fun part: making a meal around these beautifully pan seared scallops! They’re healthy, light and have a Mediterranean-vibe. Here are a few side dishes to serve with scallops:
- Salads: Try Easy Arugula Salad or Fennel Orange Salad for the ideal sweet and tangy flavor pairings. Blackberry Salad is another great option.
- Pasta: Add seared scallops to pasta for a stunning one-dish meal. The best option? Scallop Pasta with Lemon & Herbs. Or try the scallops over Creamy White Sauce Pasta.
- Roasted Veggies: Add Rosemary Roasted Potatoes, Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower, Roasted Fennel or Parmesan Broccoli.
This pan seared scallops recipe is…
Gluten-free and pescatarian. For dairy-free, omit the butter.Print
Here are the tricks to how to cook pan seared scallops and get that perfect brown crust! Follow these simple tips for a fast and easy dinner.
- Thaw the scallops, if frozen (see above).
- Brine the scallops: In a shallow dish, mix together 4 cups room temperature water and 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Place the scallops in the water and wait for 10 minutes.
- Remove the scallops and dry thoroughly. Lightly season with a several pinches kosher salt.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. If using a medium skillet, cook the scallops in two batches. Once the oil is hot, add the scallops and cook without turning for 2 to 3 minutes, until an even brown crust clearly forms on bottom.
- Flip scallops with tongs. Cook additional 2 to 3 minutes on the other side, until a crust just forms on bottom and the center of the scallop is almost opaque.
- Turn off the heat and add the butter. When it melts, spoon the melted butter over the scallops and serve with a squeeze of lemon. Or, go to Lemon Herb Scallop Sauce to make a 2 minute pan sauce.
- Category: Main Dish
- Method: Seared
- Cuisine: French inspired
Keywords: Pan seared scallops, seared scallops
About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.