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Pan-Seared Scallops (master recipe)

Pan-Seared Scallops (master recipe)

Pan-Seared Scallops (master recipe)


Serves 4 to 6


12 large sea scallops, preferably dry-packed

Clarified butter, extra-virgin olive oil or a mixture of the two

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

It is important to use the best scallops you can find.  They are usually listed as fresh, dry-packed, wild scallops.  


These scallops are a bit more expensive, but will be fresher, have better flavor and cook better.  Most scallops available in this country are previously frozen and packed in a liquid to help with preservation, plumpness and to keep them looking white.  These scallop, while not as good as the dry-packed ones, are still quite nice if prepared and cooked properly.  They should be drained, rinsed and thoroughly dried before cooking.  Any moisture left in the scallop will steam the scallop rather than allowing it to sear properly.

When you sauté the scallops it is important that the pan be very hot.  You can use a nonstick, a steel or cast-iron sauté pan.  The steel or cast-iron pan will generally give you better caramelization, but a nonstick pan may easier to use, especially if this is your first time cooking scallops. 

Heat a a tablespoon or two of clarified butter, olive oil, or a mixture of the two over high heat.  If the heat is too low, the scallops will not caramelize properly. Season the scallops with salt and pepper, to taste and when you see the pan just starting to smoke, add the scallops, flat side down.  Don’t over crowd the pan or the scallops will steam rather than searing properly.  

The exact timing for scallops will vary with the size and condition of the scallops, as well as the pan you are using and its actual temperature. It will take about 2 to 4 minutes per side. (If you have never cooked scallops before, it may be a good idea to experiment with a few to work out the best timing for you.) After about 2 minutes you should take a peak at the bottom of the scallops and if they have a nice sear with a golden brown color, it is time to turn them over.  It is important to avoid touching or moving the scallop before that time. You should cook them for about 1 to 2 minutes on the second flat side, again without moving them.  It is also important to avoid over cooking a scallop or it will be come firm and a bit rubbery.  I remove them from the pan when both sides have a good sear, generally 2 minutes on the first side and 1 to 2 minutes on the second.  At that point the scallops are still springy and the center is a bit translucent.  The residual heat in the scallops will continue to cook them after you remove them from the pan.