How to Cook Perfect Scallops

updated Dec 21, 2023

You're just 10 minutes away from a fancy dinner.

Serves4

Prep5 minutes

Cook5 minutes

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Scallops are a little luxury for date nights at home, and because they are so quick-cooking, why not add them to your weeknight dinner rotation too? Scallops need little more than butter or olive oil, seasoning, fresh herbs, and a few minutes on the stovetop before they’re golden, and ready to served. It’s that easy. Here’s how to make perfectly seared scallops on the stovetop.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Rachel Perlmutter

How to Buy Scallops

If you have a choice between wet or dry scallops at your seafood counter, it’s best to opt for dry. This recipe is for cooking larger sea scallops, not bay scallops.

  • Dry scallops: Transferred to a dry container (no water or preservatives) once shucked. Their shelf-life is shorter, but dry scallops have a better flavor and tend to be fresher.
  • Wet scallops: Treated with water and preservatives which can make scallops retain excess water. This dilutes their flavor and gives them a tougher texture. Extends their shelf life, but that means they tend to be less fresh than dry scallops.

Types of Scallops

  • Sea scallops: Often 1 to 2 inches wide. Fished from deep, cold ocean waters all year long.
  • Bay scallops: Much smaller in size, often just 1/2-inch wide. Fished from the shallow waters along the eastern coast of the United States, especially during the fall months.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Rachel Perlmutter

How to Prepare Scallops

  • Remove side muscle. The side muscle is a little tag of muscle tissue on the side of the scallop that secures it to the shell and may still be on the scallops. 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.
  • Pat dry and season. Use a paper towel to dry the scallops to encourage a good sear. Season with kosher salt and black pepper.
  • Sear scallops. Add scallops to a hot stainless steel skillet of melted butter or olive oil. Let it cook until a golden crust forms, then flip, and cook on the other side.

Are Scallops a Sustainable Seafood Choice?

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Rachel Perlmutter

How to Serve Scallops

Scallops cook super-fast, so everything else you’re serving should be ready to go before adding scallops to the pan. Once the table is set and candles are lit, quickly cook the scallops and plate it all up. Scallops are such a treat — they’re easily one of the nicest meals you can serve at home.

Sides to Serve with Scallops

Seared Scallops Recipe

You're just 10 minutes away from a fancy dinner.

Prep time 5 minutes

Cook time 5 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds

    sea scallops (or 4 to 5 scallops per person)

  • Kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 tablespoon

    unsalted butter or olive oil

  • Finely chopped fresh herbs (optional)

Equipment

  • Large stainless steel skillet

  • Tongs or a thin spatula

Instructions

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  1. Remove the side muscles from the scallops if needed. Find the side muscle on 1 1/2 pounds sea scallops if still attached. Pull the muscle off and discard.

  2. Pat dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pat the scallops dry with paper towels. Season generously all over with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

  3. Heat the pan. Heat 1 tablespoon unsalted butter or olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until the butter melts or the oil shimmers.

  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 needed.

  5. Cook the scallops for 2 minutes, then flip. Cook the scallops undisturbed for 2 minutes. If the scallop doesn't release easily from the pan, let it cook for another few seconds until it does. Use tongs to flip the scallops over.

  6. Cook the scallops for another 2 to 3 minutes. Cook the scallops on the second side undisturbed for 2 to 3 minutes more. 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, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the scallops registers 115°F. Do not overcook or the scallops become tough and chewy.

  7. Serve immediately. Serve the scallops immediately while they are still warm and garnish with finely chopped fresh herbs, if desired.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 1 day.