Pan Seared Scallops

For year’s I have been watching Gordon Ramsey yelling in Hell’s Kitchen about rubbery or raw scallops. While watching with amusement, I also clearly remember my only personal failure to make scallops four years ago. So when I saw that the current issue of Cook’s Illustrated (May/June 2015) included a recipe for Pan Seared Scallops, I was excited to try this “new recipe”. After already purchasing everything for this recipe, I realized they just republished the same recipe from 2009.

Great sear and delicious; but overcooked

Great sear and delicious; but overcooked

Getting a great sear using a residential, gas range requires pre-heating the skillet on your most powerful burner for upwards of 4 minutes. I was a little uneasy pre-heating my non-stick skillet to such a high temperature (health concerns here).  If you have a cast iron skillet you should use that. Otherwise, the recipe is very straight-forward. Cook the scallops for 1-1/2 minutes per side in a screaming-hot pan. After flipping, baste with melted butter while the second side cooks. Unfortunately, the basting technique tilts the skillet removing from direct contact with the flame. The cooled pan takes longer for the second side to sear. The bottom line if this: You have a choice between searing the second-side or cooking to only 115-degrees. Mine cooked to 130-degrees.

The results were delicious; to me they seemed perfectly cooked, even at 130-degrees. The browned butter was delicious and helped attain great caramelization. I only cooked half my scallops today; and want to try one of these sauces when I cook the second half; Lemon Brown Butter or this Orange Lime Vinaigrette,


  1. The recipe calls for dry sea scallop, which means that they are not treated with sodium tripolyphosphate (STP). I was disappointed to find out that the scallops packaging (from behind the fish counter in my supermarket) didn’t list the ingredients. I bought then frozen and they gave up so much liquid as they defrosted that I assume they were wet. Therefore, I brined the scallops as directed in Step 1.
  2. The recipe says to remove the tendons. I’m not 100% sure what those are, but I didn’t see anything on my scallops that could be removed.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $25.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess? Low.
Start: 5:30 PM. End time: 6:15 PM.

The original Cook’s Illustrated recipe is here. The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows:

1-1/2 pounds dry sea scallop, 10 to 20 per pound
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Lemon wedges

  1. Remove tendons.  If you can only find “wet” scallops, Add 1 quart cold water, 1/4 cup lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons table salt to a medium bowl. Soak scallops for 30 minutes.
  2. Put scallops on a baking sheet that is lined with a clean dish towel, then put a second clean towel on top of scallops and softly press down to blot away any liquid. Allow then to stand at room temperature for 10 minutes so that the towels will dry out the scallops as much as possible.
  3. Season both side of the scallops with salt and pepper. Set a 12″ non-stick skillet over high burner, add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil a pre-heat for 4 minutes until the oil just begins to smoke. Add half the scallops to the pre-heated pan with the flat side down; laying down in a clockwise pattern (so that you can flip them in the same order you set them down). Cook for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes per side, without moving them, until they become well browned.
  4. Just before flipping, add 1 tablespoon butter to the skillet.
  5. Use tongs to flip the scallops and cook the second side, and tilt skillet so that butter runs to one side. Use a large spoon to baste the scallops with the melted butter as they cook. They only need to cook for between 30-seconds to 1-1/2 minutes. The sides of the scallops should be firm and the centers should still be opaque; and measure 115-degrees.
  6. Tent loosely with aluminum foil while you make the second batch. Use paper towels to wipe out the skillet and repeat the cooking process with the remaining scallops.
  7. Serve as soon as the second batch is ready with lemon wedges or an accompanying sauce.

6 Responses to Pan Seared Scallops

  1. Jonny Rashid says:

    I missed this recipe in May/June. Am I blind?

  2. OK, as I suspected it must be an error with their online version,

  3. trustforce says:

    Almost all scallops in the supermarket are the phosphate treated and frozen variety. If you have a Trader Joe’s nearby, they have frozen scallops not treated with any chemicals or salt, and although they are not cheap, they taste great. If you are fortunate enough to be in an area that fresh diver scallops can be obtained, by all means use fresh,

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