Learn how to make restaurant quality pan seared scallops at home! This easy recipe results in perfectly seared scallops that are caramelized on the outside and buttery tender on the inside.
Sea scallops are loaded with natural sugars, and when seared properly, they caramelize to create the most delicious golden brown crust. You don’t need a lot of extra ingredients to let the subtle flavor of the scallops to shine.
Why this Recipe Works
- Restaurant quality scallops at home. Save money and enjoy sweet and succulent scallops whenever you want!
- Great as an appetizer or main course, for weeknight dinners or weekend entertaining.
- Only 4 ingredients.
- Ready in less than 10 minutes!
- Sea scallops - Use dry packed sea scallops or diver scallops, not bay scallops, which are much smaller. See my tips below for how to buy scallops.
- Oil - Use a light oil with a high smoke point, that can be heated over high heat, like avocado, light olive oil, vegetable, canola, grapeseed or peanut oil.
- Aromatics - Optional. You can add a few cloves of raw garlic, half of a shallot, or woody fresh herbs such as thyme or rosemary to add a touch of flavor to the scallops.
How to Buy Scallops
- The key to restaurant-quality pan-seared scallops is to start with great scallops. Choose very fresh, large sea scallops, not bay or Nantucket scallops, which are very small.
- Diver scallops have been hand plucked right out of the ocean by divers and are always of exceptional size and quality. If you're lucky enough to find these, use them.
- Always buy from a reputable source, and ask your fishmonger for dry-packed scallops. Dry-packed or "dry" scallops are not treated with anything and are exactly what you want. Wet-packed scallops have been infused with a chemical solution to make them retain water, which will ooze out when cooking and prevent them from browning. It will also give them an odd flavor.
- You can use any size scallop you prefer, but the bigger the better. The number refers to how many scallops per pound. The smaller the number, the larger the scallop. 10/20 is a good size to look for, which means there are between 10 and 20 scallops per pound.
- Scallops often have a tough, chewy muscle on their side that needs to be removed before cooking. They can easily be pulled off by hand.
- Cast Iron Skillet - A cast iron skillet is one of the most versatile kitchen tools. It makes a deliciously puffed dutch baby pancake, makes the perfect vessel for a fennel and onion gratin, and pan-sears scallops for a perfect golden, caramelized crust. Cast iron is one of the best ways to cook scallops since the pan will hold high heat and allow the scallops to nicely brown while they sear quickly.
Pro Tip: Scallops will not brown as well in a non-stick pan, so avoid using one for best results. Cast iron, stainless steel or carbon steel is best.
Step by Step Instructions
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add the oil.
- Pat the scallops very dry with paper towels, then season on one side with salt and pepper RIGHT before cooking and no sooner.
- Carefully place the scallops in the hot oil, seasoned side down, and let cook, undisturbed for about 2 minutes or until nicely browned around the bottom. Season the other side while they cook.
- The scallops should easily release from the pan once they brown. Flip, lower the heat, then add the butter and aromatics if using.
- Tilt the pan to the side and use a spoon to baste the scallops with the melted butter for about 30 seconds to 1 minute depending on their size and desired level of doneness.
- The scallops are done when they look mostly opaque throughout. I prefer my scallops medium to medium well so I remove them when they are still a bit translucent in the center.
- Remove the scallops from the pan and serve immediately with lemons on the side.
Tips for Success
- Rinse the scallops under cold water to remove any sand that may be present, then pat them very, very dry. This is essential for them to get beautifully caramelized as they sear.
- Season your scallops on both sides with salt and pepper RIGHT before cooking. If you do it any sooner, the salt will draw out their moisture, making them wet again and preventing caramelization.
- A cast iron skillet is perfect for pan-searing scallops since the cast iron holds heat so well. Avoid a non-stick pan, which will prevent the scallops from browning.
- For the perfect sear, get the pan nice and hot. I prefer using oil to sear the scallops and butter to finish, which adds great flavor.
- Do not walk away from the pan, and do not disturb the scallops until at least 2 minutes have passed. You want them to sit on the hot pan and caramelize, so leaving them undisturbed is essential.
- Do not overcook! Leaving the scallops in the pan for just a minute too long will turn their buttery texture into rubber. As the scallops cook, they will become opaque. Remove them from the pan while the center is still slightly translucent - they will finish cooking to perfection on the plate.
What to Serve with Pan-Seared Scallops
These scallops are perfect for a cocktail party appetizer, but they’re also wonderful served as a meal. Try serving with these other dishes for a surf and turf dinner or a seafood feast:
- Oven Roasted Whole Beef Tenderloin
- Dijon Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb
- Maryland Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes
- Cioppino: San Francisco Seafood Stew
How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
Seared scallops are best enjoyed fresh, but you can store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat in a microwave for about 30 seconds or in an air fryer for about 2 minutes. You want to avoid further “cooking” while warming them to prevent the scallops from becoming rubbery.
FAQS About Pan Seared Scallops
No! Good quality scallops can actually be enjoyed raw. I prefer my seared scallops to be about medium inside, not well done. If you prefer yours well done, still be sure to remove them from the pan just before they're fully cooked through to account for some carry over cooking.
A rule of thumb is to cook scallops for two minutes on one side, then anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes on the other, depending on size. When done, the scallops should be springy to the touch, not firm (overcooked). Remove them from the pan before they're fully cooked to ensure they don't become overdone once they rest.
I prefer to start the scallops in oil to get a nice sear, then finish with a little bit of butter to add more flavor. This prevents the butter from burning and allows the scallops to get ultra caramelized.
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