Producing crisp-crusted, restaurant-style, pan-seared scallops at home means overcoming a major obstacle: weak stovetops. We wanted sea scallops with perfectly brown crusts and moist, tender centers. Blotting the scallops dry and waiting until the oil was just smoking to add them to the skillet were all steps in the right direction. But the technique wasn’t perfected until we tried a restaurant technique—butter basting. We seared the scallops on one side and then added butter to the skillet to encourage browning. (Butter contains milk proteins and sugars that brown rapidly when heated.) We then spooned the foaming butter over the scallops. Adding the butter partway through cooking ensured that it had just enough time to work its browning magic on the scallops but not enough time to burn. We recommend buying “dry” scallops, which don’t have chemical additives and taste better than “wet.” Dry scallops will look ivory or pinkish; wet scallops are bright white. Wet scallops are dipped in preservatives to extend their shelf life. Unfortunately, these watery preservatives dull their flavor and ruin the texture. Unprocessed, or dry, scallops have much more flavor and a creamy, smooth texture, plus they brown very nicely. (If your scallops are not labeled, you can find out if they are wet or dry with this quick microwave test: Place a single scallop on a paper towel-lined microwave-safe plate and microwave for 15 seconds. A dry scallop will exude very little water, while a wet scallop will leave a sizable ring of moisture on the paper towel. The microwaved scallop can then be cooked in the skillet as is.)–Editors of America’s Test Kitchen
LC Full Disclosure Note
Seared scallops that are perfectly golden brown outside yet ever so slightly wobbly inside—Gordon Ramsay would be so proud. Although in the spirit of full disclosure, we tweaked this seared scallops recipe from the original version written by the talented and venerable folks at America’s Test Kitchen. Whereas they insist on using a nonstick skillet and heating the oil in said skillet to smoking before adding the scallops, with all due respect, we beg to differ. We rely on cast-iron skillets for nonstick cooking, and we never heat our oil to smoking, especially not in a Teflon-coated pan. The recipe below reflects our preferences, and we gotta say, these seared scallops worked really quite splendidly in our own kitchens and those of our testers. That said, as always, you can do as you wish.
Seared Scallops Recipe
- Quick Glance
- 10 M
- 20 M
- Serves 2
- 12 ounces large sea scallops, tough tendons removed
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- Lemon wedges, for serving
- 1. Place the scallops on a large plate lined with a clean dish towel. Place another clean dish towel on top of the scallops and gently press to blot any liquid. Let the scallops rest at room temperature for 10 minutes so the towels can absorb any moisture.
- 2. Season the scallops with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Add the scallops in a single layer and cook, without moving, until nicely browned, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.
- 3. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the butter to the skillet and, using tongs, flip the scallops. (If the scallops stick to the skillet, just let them be for a moment; this is usually a sign that they’re just not ready to be turned yet. And for the love of all things good, don’t use a plastic spatula to flip these guys, as they’re too delicate. Tongs are best, but a super skinny metal spatula—you know, a bendy flexible spatula—also works well.) Use a large spoon to baste the scallops with melted butter as you tilt the skillet and continue to cook the scallops until the sides are firm and the centers are opaque, 30 to 90 seconds. (Smaller scallops will cook more quickly than larger ones, natch.) Use tongs to transfer the scallops to plates or platters as they are done. Serve the seared scallops immediately with the lemon wedges.
- Seared Scallops with Lemon Brown Butter
- Cook the scallops as directed above but serve with this sauce on the side: Cook 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, tilting the saucepan constantly, until the butter turns golden brown and has a nutty aroma, 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 minced small shallot and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 2 teaspoons minced flat-leaf parsley leaves, 1/4 teaspoon minced thyme leaves, and 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
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Seared Scallops Recipe © 2014 Editors of America's Test Kitchen. Photo © 2014 Carl Tremblay. All rights reserved.
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