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Learn to cook sea scallops like a pro! Velvety tender scallops with beautiful golden seared crust is the definition of perfectly seared scallops. When you’re short on time, seafood is your best friend! Sea scallops, especially, are a great choice, because they literally take minutes to cook.
And if you ever thought seared scallops belong to fancy restaurant menu, I’m here to change your mind.
Plus, learn about wet vs dry scallops, shopping tips and how to thaw frozen scallops.
First, let’s talk about choosing the right scallops.
How to choose and buy the right scallops:
There’re 3 different types of scallops: bay, calico and sea.
- Bay scallops are luxury variety of scallops. They’re expensive, small in size and mostly found at high end restaurants.
- Calico scallops, on other hand, are quite the opposite of bay scallops. They’re cheap and not as flavorful.
- Sea scallops are the most popular choice, and for good reasons. They’re readily available all year round, not terribly expensive, and pretty darn delicious, unless they’ve been treated/processed.
What is processed scallop?
Processed scallops, also known as soaked or wet scallops, are soaked in sodium tripolyphosphate to extend its shelf life and add water weight. Because of this soaking method, processed scallops loose its nutty sweet flavors and take on chemical taste.
Here are a few signs of processed scallops:
- Scallops are bright white color, instead of its natural ivory or pinkish color.
- Scallops are in a milky sticky liquid.
While majority of scallops available in stores are processed ones, we highly recommend to search for unprocessed scallops whenever possible. Not only processed scallops taste bad, but it’s also very difficult to achieve beautiful seared crust due to excess moisture in them.
Unprocessed scallops may also be labeled as “dry” scallops.
Tips to achieve perfectly seared scallops with golden caramelized crust:
While it’s super easy to cook scallops, there are a few simple rules to follow to get the perfect result.
- Rinse scallops under running cold water to remove any sand and line them up on a paper towel.
- Remove a side muscle that is attached to the side of each scallop, because this side tendon is tough and chewy. It’s a small rectangular muscle that easily peels off when you pull. (See picture below.)
- Thoroughly dry the scallops with paper towel. To get that beautiful golden sear, it’s crucial to dry the scallops well. Otherwise, you’ll end up steaming the scallops, and you won’t get a nice sear.
- Heat the skillet really well! Stainless steal or cast iron skillets work the best for searing scallops. Non-stick pans won’t get you that caramelized crust. And reach for the biggest skillet you have, because you also don’t want to overcrowd the pan. Each scallop should be in contact with the pan, no overlapping! Again, if you overcrowd the pan, you risk creating too much steam and instead of searing you’ll end up steaming those scallops.
- Get those kitchen tongs out and keep a close eye on them. Overcooked scallops are tough, rubbery disappointment. After about 2 minutes, flip the scallops using those tongs. If the scallops are still stuck to the pan, don’t force it. Let it sit for another 30 seconds and try again.
Here’s how I prepare my scallops: I line a baking sheet with 2 layers of paper towel, arrange the rinsed scallops in one layer, remove the side muscle and then pat them dry with another paper towel.
Why scallops stuck to the pan?
There are 2 reasons your scallops stuck to the pan.
- The skillet wasn’t heated well when you put the scallops in.
- Or they are simply not quite ready to be flipped. Give it another 3o seconds and try again.
When you’re done searing the scallops, deglaze the pan with a splash of wine or stock to make flavorful pan sauce. Lots of flavor is left in the pan! Don’t waste it.
How to thaw frozen scallops?
Method 1: Place the frozen scallops in the fridge for about 24 hours to slowly defrost.
Method 2: If you forgot to take the scallops out of the freezer, don’t sweat. You can defrost it by putting the bag of frozen scallops under cold running water for about 30 minutes.
How to Cook Perfect Seared Scallops
- 1 ½ lbs dry sea scallops
- Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable, or canola oil
- Thoroughly dry the scallops with paper towels. (This is important to achieve beautiful seared crust!)
- Generously season with salt on both sides.
- Heat a large stainless steel or cast iron skillet over medium high heat. (I recommend using 12-inch skillet to give plenty of room for scallops.)
- Add 1 tablespoon of oil.
- Add the scallops one by one into the sizzling hot skillet in a single layer, making sure they don’t touch each other. (Work in batches.)
- Sear the scallops for about 2 minutes without disruption until golden crust forms. If the scallops are still stuck to the pan, it means they are not ready. Don’t force it. Try again in about 30 seconds.
- Using a pair of kitchen tongs, flip the scallops and cook the other side for another 2 minutes. The center of the scallops should be slightly translucent. Overcooking will result in chewy, rubbery scallops that no one would care for. Remove the scallops onto a clean plate.
- Repeat with the remaining oil and scallops. And serve immediately.