Pan seared scallops on a platter looking delicious

Pan Seared Scallops

Terri Wolters

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: Fish that is wild caught in your country is usually a sustainable choice. There are also quality options in well-regulated farms.

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 Salted Perfection Lemon Zest Finishing Salt!

Our Lemon Zest Finishing Salt is the perfect complement to this simple dish. Simply sprinkle some on the scallops right before serving and you'll have everyone at your table asking for more!

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