Scallops. The very word instills fear into home cooks. Seared scallops are something that people order off restaurant menus only because it seems like such an intimidating protein to cook. But what if we told you that scallops are easy, sustainable, and so delicious?
Scallops can be scary to cook because, frankly, they are an expensive seafood product. Good scallops can range you anywhere from $20-25 per pound. So when you’ve never tried cooking them before, accidentally ruining $25 worth of meat feels daunting.
But we’re here to tell you, scallops are easy. So easy, in fact, that most first time cooks can successfully cook them as long as they follow a few simple steps to seared scallop glory.
1. Pick the right scallops
This seems like a no brainer, right? Just go pick up some scallops from the supermarket and get to cooking. But picking the right scallops to make sure they sear properly is really important.
There are two types of scallops that you can buy readily available: bay scallops and sea scallops. Bay scallops are sweet and tasty, though they are quite small. They make great additions to soups and salads. When looking for scallops for making seared scallops, you want Sea scallops (sometimes known as Weathervane scallops). These are the types of scallops you find in restaurants. They range from medium to large.
One thing to note when purchasing scallops: check whether they are “wet” or “dry” scallops (or wet-packed vs dry-packed). Any person behind the seafood counter can tell you if their scallops are wet or dry. Wet scallops have phosphates and other additives added to them, which absorbs about 30% more water. This is done for additional water weight (to charge you more, tricky tricky). You do not want these scallops. When making seared scallops, always ask for dry scallops. In order to get a good sear, you need the least amount of moisture possible in your scallop to create that perfect browned and crisp exterior. Wet scallops will have a more white translucent color, while dry scallops will be a lovely opaque white to pink color. Always pick dry.
You can also ask the counter person if the scallop is IQF (or individually quick-frozen). This will be optimal for any type of seafood you prepare at home, as it ensures freshness.
2. Clean and prepare them
If your scallops come frozen, you’ll want to defrost them and drain them of moisture. Line them up on a baking cooling rack and place over a baking sheet with paper towels. Defrost them in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook them. You can also place them on top of ice packs covered in paper towels in the refrigerator if you want to keep them at optimally cold temperatures.
Preparing your scallops for searing is quick. Find and remove the little tag/tail muscle from the scallop. This is done in a quick motion, grabbing and simply pulling it down in the opposite direction. It should come off quite easily, but if it doesn’t, you can simply cut it off. If you are unable to remove the muscle, the meat will just be a little more tough than other parts of the scallop in that area.
3. pat dry and season
The most important part? PAT THOSE BABIES DOWN DRY. Take a paper towel and pat the excess moisture from the outside gently. Make sure not to squish your scallops while removing as much moisture as possible. Much like a steak, getting a nice pan sear on protein proves difficult when too much moisture is involved. A dry surface reacts well to the heated oil in a pan to provide crisp, browned edges.
Don’t forget to salt and pepper both sides of your scallops.
4. Heat pan and add scallops evenly with plenty of room
Get yourself a stainless steel pan or skillet and coat the bottom in a high heat oil with a little bit of butter: olive, grapeseed, or avocado oil make great high smoke point oils. Get your pan hot over medium high heat. But don’t drop it like it’s hot, because that’s dangerous. Test the oil with the tiniest drop of water. Does it evaporate? Then your oil is ready.
First thing’s first though, open your windows. It’s gonna get a little smoky in the kitchen. Next, turn on your hood fan and make sure you have your fanning towel ready for the smoke alarm just in case.
Add your scallops to the pan with one of the flat sides down, but don’t crowd them. This isn’t a Beyonce concert for scallops. Keep them about an inch apart to ensure they cook quickly and evenly. They should sizzle on contact, but if they don’t, wait a minute until the pan heats up more and add the rest.
5. Cook scallops quickly
Seared scallops cook very quickly. They only take about two minutes of cook time on each side. If you plan to serve these on top of a pasta or salad dish, reserve cooking the scallops for last and cook everything else first.
When cooking on the first side, leave the scallops untouched for the first two minutes, then flip over. If it doesn’t flip easily, let the other scallops cook just a minute longer, then flip. Reduce heat to medium and add a small pat of butter. Cook an additional two minutes, gently basting the scallops with the melted butter. They should be a soft-firm bounce on top, but not rubbery or tough.
6. Serve immediately
So you seared your scallops. Now what do you do? Plate them and eat them! Scallops should be served immediately after cooking to ensure that they don’t get tough or cold.
Hopefully this little guide helps you jump that mental hurdle when it comes to cooking scallops. Cooking needn’t be scary as long as you have the proper tools and guidance to do it. If you have any questions, please feel free to give us a shout!