How To Cook Scallops on the Stovetop

Cooking Lessons from The Kitchn

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Scallops are a little luxury in my household. A weekend date night means plates of pasta and scallops with wedges of lemon and glasses of white wine on the side. Scallops are sustainable, delicious — and so easy! Here’s how to make quick-cooking scallops on the stovetop in just about 5 minutes.

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Scallops: Super Easy!

Scallops are not inexpensive; in my area they go for at least $20 a pound. So it can be a little intimidating to cook them; what if you mess up such an expensive dinner?

This is the beautiful thing about scallops, though; once you understand how quickly they are cooked, you'll never mess them up. They take just 4 to 5 minutes to cook — that's it! We'll show you below, step by step, how to do this, but the gist is simple: Sear in an oiled skillet for about 2 minutes on each side. Done!

Scallops & Sustainability

Scallops are almost always a sustainable choice in seafood, a safe option in terms of sustainability. Read more about scallops and sustainability here:

Love Scallops? Lucky You. They're a Great Sustainable Seafood Choice.

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How to Time a Meal When Cooking Scallops

Scallops' quick-cooking properties also mean that you should have everything else for your meal ready to go before putting them in the pan. Scallops are the last thing to go on the plate, so have your pasta, sauce, or salad ready and waiting before you cook the scallops.

One of my favorite meals is scallops on top of some creamy pureed vegetables. I'll cook cauliflower or rutabaga, puree it until silky-smooth, and keep it warm in a covered bowl. I'll make a tossed salad, set out warmed plates, and pour the wine. Then, at the last minute, with the table set and candles lit, I'll quickly cook the scallops and plate it all up. They're such a treat — one of the easiest, nicest meals you can eat at home.

How to Serve Scallops

While there are plenty of recipes out there with scallops, think of them as a protein addition to nearly any favorite recipe. Sear them according to this method and then plop them on top of pasta dressed with olive oil and lemon, or on your favorite couscous recipe. (They would be delicious on cauliflower couscous!) If you want more ideas, here are a few from our archives.

How To Cook Scallops on the Stovetop

What You Need

Ingredients
1 1/2 pounds sea scallops (or 4 to 5 scallops per person)
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil

Equipment
Large stainless steel skillet
Tongs or a thin spatula

Instructions

  1. Remove side-muscles: The side-muscle is a little tag of muscle tissue on the side of the scallop that secures it to the shell. It will feel a bit tough and its fibers run opposite the rest of the scallop. Just pinch it with your thumb and first finger and pull it away. If you miss one, don't worry; they're a little tough to chew, but are safe to eat.
  2. Pat dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper: Pat the scallops dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle them generously with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat the pan: Heat the butter or olive oil in the pan over medium-high heat. When the a few flecks of water evaporate on contact, the pan is ready.
  4. Add the scallops to the pan: Place the scallops in the pan in a single layer, spaced about an inch apart. The first scallop should sizzle on contact. If it doesn't, wait a few seconds to let the pan heat before adding the rest. Do not crowd the pan; work in batches if necessary.
  5. Cook the scallops for 2 minutes, then flip: Cook the scallops without moving them for 2 minutes, then flip them over. If the scallop doesn't release easily from the pan, let it cook for another few seconds until it does.
  6. Cook the scallops for another 2 to 3 minutes: Cook the scallops on the second side for another 2 to 3 minutes without moving. Both sides of the scallop should be seared golden brown and the sides should look opaque all the way through. The scallops should feel firm to the touch, but still slightly soft, like well-set Jello; do not overcook or the scallops become tough and chewy.
  7. Serve immediately: Serve the scallops immediately while they are still warm.

Recipe Notes

  • Meal-Prep Tip: Cook the scallops as the last thing you do before serving dinner. Prepare everything else so that the scallops can be served immediately after cooking, while they are at their best.

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(Image credits: Leela Cyd)

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