How to Cook Scallops
Scallops are healthy, delicious, and surprisingly easy to make, with a super short cook time that make them the perfect weeknight ingredient. Read up below on everything you need to know to shop for, prepare and cook perfect scallops every time.
Scallops might seem like the ultimate fine dining protein, but we’ll let you in on a little secret: they’re actually ridiculously easy to make. When it comes to cooking delicious scallops at home, it’s all about quality and timing. As long as you get good scallops and don’t under or overcook them, you’re bound to create a truly impressive and delicious dish. And what’s more, scallops are incredibly healthy, and largely considered one of the healthiest seafood ingredients around, made up of 80% protein, very little fat, and integral nutrients such as phosphorous and and iron. Read up below on how to prepare this nutrient and flavor-packed ingredient perfectly at home.
Table of contents
Shopping for Scallops
- Fresh vs. Frozen
- Sea Scallops vs. Bay Scallops
- Wet-Packed, Dry-Packed or Diver-Caught
- What to Look Out For
How to Prepare Scallops
- Fresh Scallops
- Frozen Scallops
- How to Pan-Sear Scallops
Fresh vs. Frozen
Fresh scallops, as is true of any protein, and especially seafood, are always better. They’ll have a more intense flavor and truer texture, and you’ll also be able to see them before purchasing to ascertain the quality.
That said, frozen scallops definitely have their perks as well. They’re cheaper, for one, sometimes up to half the price of fresh scallops. They also allow you to cook up some scallops whenever you want. Fresh scallops only stay good in the refrigerator for about a day, so you’ll need to cook them the same day you purchase them. So frozen scallops should allow you to cook and experiment with the protein more often if you don’t want to make as many grocery store trips. And while the taste and texture of frozen scallops is always going to be a bit inferior to fresh ones, with the right prep, which we’ll outline below, you’ll still get the scallop’s trademark fresh taste and texture.
Sea Scallops vs. Bay Scallops
When buying scallops, next you’ll need to decide if you’re in the market for sea or bay scallops.
Sea scallops are the more common and popular kind of scallop, and are usually what you’re eating when you order scallops at a restaurant. They’re harvested in deep, cold ocean waters, to produce a larger scallop with a more chewy, tender texture than bay scallops. Sea scallops are best when cooked with a shorter cooking time.
Bay scallops are harvested in shallow estuaries and bays most often off the East Coast, and tend to be smaller than sea scallops. Bay scallops tend to have a more tender flesh and a slightly sweet flavor. They’re also usually less expensive than sea scallops.
Wet-Packed, Dry-Packed or Diver-Caught
There are three types of harvesting methods used to produce fresh scallops, each with their own benefits and price range.
Wet-Packed Wet-packed scallops are immediately shucked on the fishing boat after they’re caught, and placed in a container with cold water and often some preservatives or chemical salts. This method makes for a longer-lasting scallop, but tends to dilute the flavor and texture. These are the least expensive kind of fresh scallop.
Dry-Packed Like the wet-packed preparation, dry-packed scallops are also directly shucked on the fishing boat after they’re caught, however afterwards they’re placed in a dry container, with no water or chemicals. This gives them a shorter shelf life, but makes for a fresher-flavored and textured scallop.
Diver Scallops This pricey variety of scallop are actually harvested by hand by individual divers, instead of the more common method of harvesting by fishing dredge. This method requires much more manpower and care, but comes with a variety of benefits. Diver scallops tend to be the most luscious and flavorful variety, and they’re also by far the most eco-conscious farming method. That said, diver scallops are by far the most expensive variety of scallop.
What to Look Out For
Good fresh scallops will be firm to the touch, with a similar texture to pork chops. Any softer, and the scallop is probably past its prime. As with any seafood, look out for dry flesh. A shiny or wet film usually means it’s been sitting out for a while. Finally, make sure to smell your scallops before purchasing. If they smell like fish, they’re not fresh. But if they smell like the sea or seaweed, that means they’re freshly-caught.
How to Prepare Scallops
Fresh scallops are relatively easy to prepare. Start by rinsing them under some water and patting dry with a paper towel.
Next, double-check to see if any side-muscles are attached to any scallops. This little muscle is responsible for opening and closing the scallop’s shell, and has a tougher, fibrous texture than the rest of the flesh that can be difficult to eat. Mostly they are removed during harvesting, but it’s always good to double check. The side-muscle looks like a rectangular little ridge on the side of the scallop, and will be firmer in texture than the rest of it. If you find any, simply pinch it between your thumb and finger and tear it away, or cut it off with a paring knife.
If you’re using frozen scallops, make sure to take them out of the freezer at least 6 hours before you use them. If you can, try to take them out the night before. Always thaw your frozen scallops in the refrigerator, never at room temperature, which could lead to bacteria.
Once they’re thawed, run your scallops under cool water and pat dry before cooking.
How to Pan-Sear Scallops
Pan-searing is really the only way to prepare scallops. This leaves you with a crispy, delicious sear and a soft inside that’s perfect on its own paired with a simple vegetable side. Pan-seared scallops are one in the same as “sauteed scallops” or “pan-fried” scallops.
Below, we’ve outlined our favorite way to pan-sear scallops. Many recipes utilize olive oil to sear the scallops, however we prefer an oil with a higher smoke point, which leads to a crispier, more delicious sear on top. We use grapeseed oil, but any oil with a high smoke point will do, such as avocado oil, canola oil or almond oil.
The last step in getting perfect, luscious scallops involves adding some butter in the last minute of the scallops cook time, and basting them just as they finish cooking. To baste, simply take a spoon and ladle the liquid butter onto the top of the scallops continuously. In this recipe, you’ll be basting for about a minute.
Start by patting your scallops with a paper or dish towel, making sure they’re incredibly dry. Next, season them with salt and pepper.
Next, place a pan or cast-iron skillet on the stove over medium-high heat. Pour about a tablespoon of grapeseed oil into the pan.
Place your scallops in the pan, making sure not to crowd them. Cook on one side for two minutes, and then flip to the other side using tongs.
Next, add about two tablespoons of butter to the pan, basting your scallops for about one minute.
Remove the scallops and serve.
Scallops are one of the healthiest and most delicious ingredients around, packed with protein, vitamins, minerals and fresh seafood flavor unlike anything else. They’re also a super quick and easy weeknight meal, taking just a few minutes to cook and requiring only a vegetable side dish to yield a balanced, hearty meal. Want to know how to cook scallops another way, or have a suggestion for the next installment of our How To series? We'd love to hear from you! Shoot us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.