Pan-seared scallops are undoubtedly one of the most simple dishes that can bring elegance to just about any spread. But, this tender, buttery, delicious shellfish is not usually prepared at home. It’s not uncommon for home cooks to feel intimidated by toiling with scallops in their kitchens. The most common mistake is over-cooking, or not being able to achieve that tasty caramelized crust. If you’ve attempted to prepare scallops and then had it go awry, don’t fret! Pan-seared scallops are not as daunting of a task, as one may believe. Familiarize yourself with some helpful tips before throwing them in the pan!
- 1/2 pound large sea scallops, dry-packed or wet-packed
- 1 quart cold water (for wet-packed scallops)
- 1/4 cup lemon juice (for wet-packed scallops)
- 2 tablespoons salt (for wet-packed scallops)
- 1 tablespoon canola oil (or any higher smoke point oil)
- salt and pepper, to taste
- large bowl
- baking sheet or large plate
- 2 kitchen towels
- large cast iron or stainless steel skillet
A scallop is considered a bivalve, meaning it once had two hinged shells connected by muscle. Remove the extra tissue if any on the side of the scallops by gently tearing it off with your fingers. Discard excess tissue.
If you’ve purchased dry scallops, skip this step. If you’ve purchased, wet scallops, place them in a large bowl. Pour in cold water, lemon juice, and salt. Allow the scallops to sit in this mixture for at least 30 minutes.
Next, line a large plate or baking sheet with a kitchen towel. Place your scallops on the surface of the towel. Set a second kitchen towel on top of your scallops. Gently press on the top towel to blot the excess liquid in the scallops. Allow the scallops to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, lightly coat a large cast-iron or stainless steel skillet with a higher smoke point oil. Avoid using oils with lower smoke points such as olive oil. Place the skillet over medium-high heat. Wait for the pan to become extremely hot!
Salt and pepper your scallops on both sides if they are dry-packed. If wet-packed, only pepper them. Add half of the scallops to the hot skillet, flat-side down. Allow them to cook for 1 1/2 minutes -2 minutes before flipping them. It’s essential that the scallops are not flipped before this point so that they can form a crust. Using a pair of tongs, flip the scallops after 1 1/2 to 2 minutes and repeat on the opposite side. Cooked scallops should be both firm, and the centers opaque. Serve immediately!
Always ask your local seafood counter if you’re unsure about the type of scallops you’re purchasing. Dry scallops, or natural scallops are best for pan searing. See our article for more information.
Wet-Packed Scallops And Dry-Packed Scallops: What’s The Difference?
Wet scallops are unquestionably more common. They are treated with a solution of water and sodium tripolyphosphate, which helps extend their shelf-life. Wet scallops are typically much whiter in color, tougher, and less flavorful than dry scallops. They’re also more challenging to pan-sear, as they won’t caramelize quite as well as a dry scallop. Follow our directions in the recipe to help get a better pan-sear on wet-scallops.
Dry scallops are the cream of the crop! Dry or natural scallops are usually harvested right from the sea with a marked difference between that of wet scallops. Dry scallops are typically tan, or vanilla tinted. They are somewhat sweet-tasting and pan-sear beautifully. Due to their superior qualities, dry scallops are commonly served in restaurants. But, this does not mean a home cook can not get their hands on some. Ask your seafood counter about wet and dry scallops. Also, start checking labels on scallop bags when you visit the grocery store.
Next time you’re in the mood for a simple and elegant meal, look no further than pan-seared scallops. Serve them over a bowl of classic risotto for an out of this world meal!