12 Tips and Tricks for Cooking Scallops at Home
When most of us think about scallops, we picture fine dining at a fancy—and often expensive—restaurant. We can’t help but yearn for that caramelized crust that professional chefs get perfectly right.
What if we told you that learning how to cook them yourself isn’t as hard as it first appears?
It’s a little intimidating at first, but once you dive in, you’ll find that you’re scaring yourself for nothing.
They’re a quick and easy treat to make, and they impress anyone who shares the meal with you. Only if you don’t keep them all for yourself!
Still intimidated? Ease your worries by checking out our tips and tricks down below.
Once you’re done reading them, you’ll have all the confidence in the world to create delicious scallops on your own.
1. Choose the Right Scallop for the Job
Although there are many different species of scallops, the main ones that we use for culinary purposes are the sea scallop and the bay scallop.
Each is delicious but has unique properties that you want to keep in mind.
Sea scallops are the larger variety, making them perfect for grilling as well as searing in a pan.
They’re often a bit chewier than the bay ones, but they still retain a tender texture.
Bay scallops are often the ones we see in restaurants and on television. They’re more delicate due to their smaller size and softer texture.
2. Look for Dry Scallops First
When it comes time to pick out your set of scallops, purchasing them straight from a fishmonger is the best way to ensure the freshest taste.
However, if that’s not possible, other alternatives work well, too!
As you select your meats, take a good look at the packaging first. It should tell you whether they’re dry packaged or wet packaged. When possible, always go for dry!
Dry scallops often appear beige with pink tones throughout the flesh.
They’re packaged with nothing but the meat itself, leaving you with something as close to fresh as possible.
They have a short shelf life because of this, but they make for a delicious meal.
Wet scallops, on the other hand, are packaged inside of a brine liquid.
This gives them a much longer shelf life, but the brine affects the flavor and texture of the scallops.
They’re much whiter in color, so it’s easy to tell the two kinds apart.
It’s possible to make a good meal out of wet scallops, but remember to skip the salt when it comes to seasoning!
3. Find a Reputable Seller
It’s always important to purchase your foods from a reputable brand. You want a seller you trust to give you the best ingredients.
This is even truer when it comes to something as delicate and sometimes expensive as scallops.
Make sure you get your scallops from a reputable seller, such as Crab Dynasty.
This way you always know that the product is of the highest quality and contains the best flavors.
A quick search makes all the difference!
4. Don’t Forget to Remove the Muscle
On the side of each scallop is a small bit of muscle. It’s a good idea to remove it, as it competes with the soft texture of the meat, but don’t worry too much if you forget. It’s not dangerous to eat.
A lot of the time, this is already removed and you won’t need to do anything. If it is there, you’ll be able to tell by the small crescent-shaped bit that looks like a different texture than the rest.
Grip that little muscle between your fingers and pull it away from the rest of the meat.
It should come right off without much trouble.
5. Pat Them Dry Before You Fry
The key to getting a good sear is to get rid of any excess moisture.
Liquids mess with the process and end up steaming the meat rather than searing it.
This is another reason why dry scallops are much better than their wet brethren.
Before you stick them in the pan, make sure to take a paper towel and pat each side of the scallop dry to ensure the best sear possible.
6. Season With Simple Ingredients
While scallops go great with many ingredients, when you’re first starting out, it’s best to stick with the basics.
Even when you’re a scallop cooking machine, sticking with simple ingredients is often the best way to go.
You don’t want to drown out the delicate flavors of the scallop.
A little sprinkling of salt and pepper is all you need to give the scallops an extra flavor boost while letting their natural flavors shine.
7. Fry With Both Butter and Oil
Choosing the right cooking fat is important to get the perfect sear.
Oil takes a lot more heat before it starts to burn, letting you fry the meats without risks.
Butter is more flavorful and melds well with scallops, but it burns in no time at all.
The key is to mix the two. Instead of choosing one over the other, use half of both.
This gives you the best of both worlds. The oil protects the solid fat content of the butter which keeps it from burning too fast. Yet it still retains that smooth buttery flavor that we all love so much.
8. Wait For the Smoking Point
When you turn on the pan, keep an eye on it. You want a medium-high heat to give the scallops that perfect sear, but you don’t want the pan too hot, either.
The best time to put in the meats is when you start to notice a small bit of smoke coming off of the pan.
This means that the pan is hot enough to instantly start searing the scallop.
Place them in the pan with a careful hand, leaving space in between each one.
9. Don’t Crowd the Pan
As the scallops cook, they’ll release steam and you don’t want that moisture to end up steaming the others as they try to cook.
Steamed scallops are not as tasty or as tender as pan-seared ones.
This is why it’s important to never crowd the pan with too many of these delicious meats.
Even if you divide them up into several batches, it’s better to take that extra time than to end up with a steamed mess.
10. Avoid Moving Them Until They’re Ready
When it’s your very first time cooking these little treasures, it’s tempting to poke and prod at them.
It’s a nervous habit that ends up harming the cooking process rather than helping it.
To get the best sear, you need to leave the meats alone until they’re ready to flip.
If you move them around the pan too much, the surface touching the pan doesn’t have enough time to get that golden crust that’s so delicious.
Scallops only take a few minutes at most to cook, so try to be patient!
11. Look For Color Before Flipping
The proper cooking time for your particular set of scallops will differ depending on their size and your pan’s temperature.
For the smaller bay variety, around a minute or so on each side should suffice. For bigger sea scallops, a couple of minutes will do.
Going by exact minutes is tricky because of all the possible variables. It’s better to start to get a feel for the right time to flip the scallops by watching them cook instead.
The best rule of thumb to follow is to look for the golden color of the sear to start climbing up the sides of the scallop.
Once it’s reached about half an inch up the side, it’s a good time to flip to the other side.
Follow the same directions for this side as well, and you’ll end up with beautiful scallops.
12. Practice To Perfect Your Technique
The first couple of times you try to cook scallops, you’re bound to feel overwhelmed and a little nervous.
Keep at it, and you’ll learn all the right techniques in no time.
Don’t be afraid to keep practicing until you’ve got the right technique.
Once you’ve got pan-searing down, then it’s time to look forward to learning other ways to cook scallops.
They’re great grilled, baked, broiled, and poached. The best part is that a lot of the information and techniques are the same, so it’s an easy jump to make from one method to the other.
Get Ready to Add Home Made Scallops to Your Weekly Dinner Plan
With all of these tips here to help you, you’ll never have to worry about making scallops again.
Impress all of your friends and family with beautiful pan-seared scallops that are as delicious as the ones you get at the restaurant.
The best part is that you’ll never have to wait for a night out to satisfy your scallop craving.
Cook some up alongside your favorite dinner meal or even make them the main course!
These little beauties will make any home-cooked meal feel a little fancier.
To learn more ways to cook meals that are restaurant quality, check out the rest of our blog!