Always fancied those gorgeously browned scallops in your favorite restaurant and secretly desired to achieve that at home, without spending a bomb? Here’s an easy fail-proof guide to achieving the cookbook perfect pan-seared scallops in your kitchen.
As difficult and complicated you may anticipate, the method for achieving the perfectly crisp, juicy, and tender scallops is super easy. If you’re planning a date night for your special one or just want to re-awake the master chef in you, this is the perfect recipe to start with.
It literally takes a total of 10 minutes from kitchen to table!
In the Post
Scallops: Fresh vs Frozen
Scallops are essentially bivalved just like their distant cousins’ clam, mussels, or oysters and are extremely easy to cook.
Achieving perfect scallops starts from picking the right scallops to cook. Although a lot of stress is given to use fresh scallops, a bag of frozen scallops can do the same job at a much less price.
Fresh scallops have a shelf life of 24-48 hours and need to be cooked and consumed within 1-2 days which makes it so expensive in the first place. Frozen scallops however can last for up to 6 months in the freezer and sustain the same texture and taste for a much lesser price tag.
How to pick the right pack of frozen scallops?
Before you add the very first bag of frozen scallops you see to your shopping trolley, keep in mind these following cues:
Dry or wet scallops
You will always find scallops labeled “wet” or “dry”. Wet ones are treated with chemicals (phosphate) to preserve and increase shelf life whereas dry ones are packed and frozen right after harvesting to protect taste and freshness.
Always pick dry ones as wet ones not only comes with harmful chemicals but also these chemicals make scallops absorb water making them heavier than dry-packed, which means fewer scallops for the same price.
If you have already picked a wet package, don’t worry we will come to washing off those unwanted chemicals soon.
Bay, sea, or diver’s scallops:
As their name suggests each is harvested from bay, sea, or deep sea by divers respectively
- Bay scallops are the smallest in size hence fairly large quantity per pound portioned (around 100) and are fastest to cook. They make the best choice for soup or seafood casseroles.
But, since they cook fastest, brown searing cannot be achieved with bay scallops. This is because to achieve crisp seared crust, scallops need to be cooked on high heat for at least 2-3 minutes each side which in the case of bay scallops will overcook them and lead to a rubbery chewy texture.
- Sea scallops, fairly larger in size, approximately 20-30 falls per pound depending on size, biggest of the size coming to 8 per pound (U8). As they need comparatively more time to cook, these can be seared to perfection and can be served with pasta or with roasted vegetables on the side.
- Diver’s scallops are hand-picked from deep-sea by divers and hence are the biggest and most expensive ones. Since they need the longest to cook, these are best-eaten pan seared with a mild, creamy, and lightly tangy sauce as the main course.
If you’re trying scallops for the first time, I suggest going for sea scallops as they give the best-seared crust without pinching deep in the pocket.
How to Thaw Frozen Scallops?
There are 3 basic methods to choose from for thawing these delicious meats, you can choose depending on the time available at hand. Pro tip: longer it takes to thaw, the better are the results!
- Overnight in the refrigerator: Remove scallops from the freezer and leave it in the refrigerator overnight. It will be neatly thawed by morning.
- Cool water technique: Place frozen scallops in a sealable bag and leave in cold running water for 20- 30 minutes. Assure that bag is completely sealed, you don’t want scallops to absorb more water.
- Thaw in the microwave. Set microwave on “Defrost” mode and run frozen scallops at 30 seconds intervals until properly thawed.
Be extra careful when using this technique and don’t over-thaw as microwave tends to dry scallops faster than any natural process which might result in chewy- rubbery scallops in the final dish.
If you’re in no rush, I recommend the first method. If running short of time, the second technique works just fine. Use the third method as last resort.
Preparing scallops to cook
Once your beautiful scallops are thawed to room temperature completely, it’s time to prep these beauties before you throw them on the pan to get perfectly browned.
- Preparing scallops to cook essentially means to remove all the excess water from the scallops and make them dry enough to get seared.
- If there’s some moisture left in scallops before you place them on a hot pan that extra moisture will come out at the time of cooking
- Water oozing out at the time of cooking would result in steaming of scallops instead of letting them get a nice crisp finish.
Tips to keep in mind before starting to cook
Once you’ve picked the right packet of scallops, thawed to room temperature, and removed all traces of excess moisture now is the time for real master chef action. Before jumping to the last step of throwing scallops in the pan, there are certain points to check and made sure of:
- I would highly recommend using a thick-bottomed, heavy, cast iron pan for uniform heat and cooking.
- Your second-best option would a thick non-stick pan. A thick and heavy pan takes longer to heat but gives uniform heating which is crucial for a perfect sear.
- I cannot emphasize enough on drying your scallops. Make sure there’s no excess water on your scallops else that will make scallops steam instead of sear in heat.
- Do not place too many scallops in one go. Scallops need room to cook. If placed too close, scallops will end up getting steamed and you will never get the crust your longing for.
- DO NOT over-cook. Keep an eye on the pan and do not cook more than 3 minutes per side. A little more cooking and the scallops will be too chewy and leathery in texture.
- Use canola oil or any vegetable oil with a high smoke point as you will need to heat the oil at a very high temperature to achieve the desired crust. You can also use ghee (clarified butter) if available.
- Although lots of recipes call for butter as a basic ingredient for cooking, I would suggest against it. Milk solids in butter get burnt at high temperatures and might leave a bitter taste to the final dish.
- If you really like scallops in butter sauce, make the sauce separately before cooking scallops. Then cook scallops in vegetable oil and serve with butter sauce (as we will be doing in the recipe below)
And, finally here’s a quick recipe you’re all waiting for:
Butter Orange Scallops
An extremely simple, quick, and super delicious recipe you can use to impressive for Significant Other or even cook for yourself. Pair it with a crisp white wine and you’ve got a fine-dine in your kitchen!