How to Cook Scallops Seared on the Outside and Tender in the Center

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Scallops are an item served at restaurants that look (and taste!) luxurious, but they are incredibly easy to make. I’m talking about scallops. To the untrained eye, they look like an intimidating meal to cook. In fact, scallops are actually easy and fast to prepare!

If you’re looking to show off your cooking skills with a meal that impresses, scallops are an excellent choice. They taste and look great, but require few ingredients and little time. You can whip up a stunning dish of seared scallops in 10 minutes that tastes like a million bucks!

To cook scallops, make sure they are clean and patted dry. Then put them in a preheated and lightly oiled skillet over medium heat for about 3 minutes per side. Serve hot.

Add some pasta and wine to the mix, and you have a romantic evening or an excellent meal for one, too.

What Kind Of Scallops Should I Buy?

Before you buy scallops, you want to make sure you’re making the right choice. There are a few options when it comes to purchasing scallops at the fish store. First, you can choose from wet scallops or dry scallops.

Wet scallops have been dipped (and sometimes soaked) in a preservative solution. Scallops absorb this liquid, which can make them appear bigger and plumper than they actually are. This can be an enticing option, but when you cook wet scallops, you can expect them to shrivel significantly. In a worst-case scenario, wet scallops also have less flavor because they’ve been diluted. Despite their attractive appearance, you generally don’t want wet scallops unless they’re the only option.

Dry scallops, on the other hand, haven’t been altered one bit since harvesting. They are as natural as possible, and therefore the best option. Dry scallops usually look beige compared to their paler wet counterpart. They will hold their shape and flavor well after cooking.

Of course, in a pinch, you can opt for wet scallops, with proper cooking techniques, you can still make them taste delicious.

The other choice to make when it comes to buying scallops is breed. Most well-stocked fish stores sell three main types of scallops:

  • Sea scallops are the largest variety, measuring 1 1/2- to 2 inches in diameter. You can serve 3 sea scallops as a single serving. This is the most common kind of scallops you’ll encounter at a restaurant.
  • Bay scallops are smaller and sweeter than sea scallops. They’re more popular for stir-fries and pasta dishes than as stand-alone protein on a dish.
  • Calico scallops are the least common variety. These are sold in their shells and must be steamed to open.

Ingredients For Easy Seared Scallops

You just need three simple ingredients to make perfectly seared scallops, plus salt and pepper for flavor:

  • 1 pound of sea scallops (or roughly 450 grams)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of butter (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

How to cook scallops

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to cook scallops.

Step 1: Prepare the scallops

Most of the time, you’ll be able to buy scallops that are ready to be cooked. If you find yourself with whole scallops or scallops with the roe attached, make sure you remove everything but the scallop itself. The roe and any muscle attached to the scallop needs to be discarded. It’s easy to peel off the muscle with your fingers or a paring knife.

Once you’re done trimming the scallops, wash them with cool water. A good rinse is all the scallops need.

Step 2: Pat them dry

Before you cook the scallops, be sure to dry them well. Use a paper towel and gently tap your scallops on all sides until they are dry.

You’re not trying to completely dry them out here. Rather, you’re trying to remove any excess water that might interfere with searing, so tap gently!

Step 3: Salt away

Next, salt and pepper your scallops on all sides to taste. If this is your first time cooking scallops, you should try to use as little as possible. Scallops taste amazing on their own, the salt and pepper are there to give it a little extra edge. Less is more!

Cooking the scallops

Step 1: Heat things up

Grab a frying pan and heat it until it’s hot. Once you’re at that point, pour in the olive oil and spread it into a thin layer in the pan. Wait a second until the oil is evenly distributed and hot all over.

Step 2: Add the scallops

Once the oil is hot and ready to go, carefully place the scallops on the pan one by one. Make sure the salted side is down in the pan. That way, you’ll be able to add salt and pepper to the other side as they cook.

You need to leave some space between each scallop in order to properly sear, not steam them. If you can’t fit all of your scallops in the pan at once, don’t worry, they cook fast! There’s no need to rush it.

Step 3: Flip them over

After 2 to 3 minutes, carefully flip your scallops over with a thin spatula such as a fish spatula. If you want to add extra flavor, this is the time to add butter to the pan. This is completely optional.

Once you’ve flipped the scallops, cook for 2 to 3 minutes on the other side. At this point, your scallops should be firm, opaque, and have some jiggle when gently pressed. Immediately remove the scallops from the pan and distribute them on your serving plates. Otherwise, they will quickly overcook if left in the hot pan.

What is the best oil to cook scallops?

Any cooking oil with a high smoke point will work for searing scallops. Olive oil is the traditional choice, though you can also use avocado oil. Low smoke-point oils like flaxseed, pumpkin, or walnut oils are not recommended.

Are under-cooked scallops dangerous?

Most seafood can be problematic if eaten under-cooked. It’s best not to risk it. Fortunately, scallops take less than five minutes to be fully cooked! If you want to be extra careful, the ideal internal temperature of cooked scallops is between 125 and 130°F.

However, remember that your seafood will continue to cook after you remove it from the heat. This process is called carryover cooking and can increase the internal temperature of scallops by 10 to 15 degrees.

How do you avoid overcooking scallops?

There’s no secret to avoiding overcooking your scallops. But they do cook quickly, so the best thing to do is keep an eye on them the entire time they’re in the pan. Flip the scallops after 2-3 minutes and plate immediately.

Flavor Pairings for Scallops

Scallops have their own delectable, delicate flavor that doesn’t need much doctoring up. But if you’d like to add a pop of flavor to compliment your seafood, here are some classic and unique flavorings to dress up your seared scallops:

  • Curry powder
  • Capers and lemon
  • Tarragon
  • Garlic
  • Fennel
  • Ginger, chili, and lime


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