Pan Seared Scallops

The secret to these pan seared scallops in butter is to cook them in a hot skillet with ripplingly hot oil and occasionally baste them with butter. That’s it. Simple, quick, and impressive. Twenty minutes from fridge to table.

A skillet filled with pan seared scallops cooked in butter

Look no further for how to make perfectly seared scallops that turn out perfectly golden brown on the surface, ever so slightly wobbly on the inside, and sweetly supple through and through.–Renee Schettler

What kind of pan is best for searing scallops?

If you ask us–which you are–our answer is cast iron skillet. No doubt. The sturdy metal not only retains heat well but it emits it well or, in more common parlance, throws off heat. Which is what results in that lovely golden brown sear that we so covet on our scallops, chicken, pork chops, steaks, and more. You’ll often see recipes call for nonstick skillets to sear food to avoid sticking. But they’re made with flimsier metals, which means they throw heat less efficiently, ergo a less lovely sear.

Besides, the real secret to getting something to not stick is simply to be patient. Rather than nudge and fuss over your scallops, worrying about them not sticking, trust that when the scallop is properly seared, it will release from the skillet. If it doesn’t release, then it’s not ready yet. So take a breath, maybe have a sip of wine, and wait. Try again in a few moments. When it’s had enough time, it’ll let go.

Video: How to Sear Scallops
Video courtesy of America's Test Kitchen

Pan Seared Scallops

  • Quick Glance
  • (14)
  • 10 M
  • 15 M
  • Serves 2
4.9/5 - 14 reviews
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Ingredients


Directions

Place the scallops on a large plate or rimmed baking sheet lined with a clean dish towel or several paper towels. Place another clean dish towel or stack of paper towels 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 absorb any excess moisture.

Just before cooking, season the scallops with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until hot and almost but not quite smoking.

Add the scallops to the skillet in a single layer, preferably around the perimeter of the skillet and without crowding them. Cook, without touching the scallops, until they’re magnificently golden brown on the bottom, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium and, using tongs, flip the scallops. (If the scallops stick to the skillet, just let them be still for another moment; they’re just not ready to be turned yet. When they’re ready, they’ll let go.)

Tester tip: For the love of all things good, don’t use a plastic spatula to flip sea scallops.. Tongs are best but a super skinny metal spatula—you know, a bendy flexible spatula—also works quite well.

Add the butter to the skillet and use a large spoon to baste the scallops with melted butter as you continue to cook the scallops until the sides and centers are opaque, 60 to 90 seconds more, depending on the size. Use tongs to transfer the scallops to plates or platters as soon as each is done. 

Serve immediately with the lemon wedges. Originally published May 27, 2014.

Print RecipeBuy the The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook cookbook

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    Tuxedo Variation

    • Seared Scallops with Lemon Brown Butter

    • Tux variation

      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.

    Recipe Testers' Reviews

    Loved, loved, loved these scallops—so much so that I wanted more after eating them for dinner, woke up thinking about them and decided that they would be dinner that next night, too. We even scrapped plans to go out to dinner in order to eat these scallops again. And you know how sometimes when you have something again, it doesn’t live up to what you experienced the first time? Didn’t happen here.

    I should have prefaced this by saying that I like scallops that are allowed to shine on their own. These do just that. I also believe in using a cast-iron skillet to sear my scallops. I just couldn’t use a non-stick skillet. The technique of adding the butter and basting the scallops as you cook them is fabulous. No burned or blackened butter. No over-done scallops. Just succulence.

    And the butter that’s left in the skillet? Pour it over the scallops. We dipped the scallops in that butter. We also dipped a marvelous green rice that I had made to accompany the scallops in that butter. Oh, so delicious.

    While I'm waxing poetic, I'm going to mention that that these sea scallops are so very quick and easy to make. You want something really good that will cook in no more than a few minutes? This is it. You can’t heat up prepared food, whether fresh or frozen, this fast. You can’t get take-out or delivery this fast.

    I will also mention that even though previously frozen scallops are not ideal, you can definitely use them and get them to sear. (Scallops that are not previously frozen can be extremely difficult to find. I decided a while ago not to let that stop me from eating scallops. I defrost the scallops with paper towels under them as well as over them. I do need to change the paper towels a few times till the scallops are defrosted and "dry.") I'm now able to achieve beautifully seared scallops that I can enjoy even when fresh scallops aren't available. Wouldn’t want to be scallop-deprived.

    These scallops are easy and delicious. What more can one ask from a simple Sunday dinner? This was my first time making seafood from beginning to end, and I have to say, it's definitely a recipe I'll make again.

    I used a cast-iron skillet to sear the scallops, and I had no problem with the butter burning. The sauce became nicely brown, and the timing worked out perfectly.

    And even with the absence of lemon wedges that my mom forgot to buy, the scallops were still amazing. For the rest of the meal, I prepared a fresh green garden salad with bacon and I served the scallops on top along with their buttery sauce.

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    Comments

    1. What kind of pan can I use instead of cast-iron? I have a glass-top electric range, and cast iron may scratch it.

      1. Hi Corinne, you could use just about any pan though you might not get the same lovely sear that cast iron provides.

    2. Never had scallops until recently and I loved them!!! Just want to thank you for this recipe as well as tips for choosing scallops!!! Very helpful!!!! Thank You!!!

    3. Added 1/4 cup of white wine to pan after flipping over the scallop. Then added 1 tbsp of butter, 1 minced garlic clove and 1 tbsp of lemon juice. Excellent flavour.

    4. This was an excellent set of directions to make scallops. I wish I waited another minute for my pan to heat up.

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