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How to Cook Scallops

Created January 26, 2017
For an elegant entrée that requires little preparation or cooking time, try pan-frying scallops.

Fans of the show Hell’s Kitchen may remember the difficulty cooks had preparing scallops to Chef Gordon Ramsay’s standards. Every week some poor contestant was the target of Chef’s merciless tongue lashing for either undercooking or burning the tender, fast-cooking shellfish. The problem was likely due to the pressure these cooks were under, because in the real world (as opposed to reality television), scallops are just not that hard to cook. The trick is to watch them though, because overcooking them will ruin their texture and flavor in no time. We're here to help.

How to Prepare Scallops

Most scallops you purchase at the market come without the tough muscle that attaches them to the shell. If not, it’s best to slice this off prior to cooking. Give the scallops a quick rinse in cold water and pat them dry with a paper towel. Set them aside while you gather your utensils for cooking.

It’s important with this dish to have everything at the ready before you cook, since scallops take such little time on the stove. Once you pull the scallops off the heat, you’ll want to serve them immediately.

The Ingredients

Many cooks prefer to season scallops with a very light sprinkling of sea salt, black pepper and maybe a mild herb such as minced parsley served on top. For pan-frying, a popular way of cooking scallops, you will want to use a vegetable oil with a high smoke point such as safflower, grapeseed or extra virgin olive oil. Clarified butter may also be used and will bring a rich, full flavor to the dish.

Clarified butter may sound fancy, but it’s just regular butter with butterfats removed. You can clarify butter easily by putting a stick into a saucepan and slowly heating it until it melts. You will start to see a creamy layer form at the top of the liquid. Skim this layer off until all you have is clear liquid—that’s your clarified butter.

Cooking Scallops

Once you have everything together, warm up the pan with the oil or butter inside until it’s good and hot. Sprinkle just a few drops of water in the pan to test the heat; if the water sizzles the pan is ready. Place the scallops in a clockwise position around the pan. This helps you with your timing. Let the scallops cook for about one minute or until the flesh turns light brown. Starting at the top of your “clock,” turn the scallops over and cook on the other side. Use tongs for turning—never pierce the flesh with a fork to turn any meat. Cook for another minute and pull from the pan.

For added flourish, turn the heat down and deglaze the pan with ½ cup of white wine or clarified butter. Reduce the liquid for a minute before pouring over the top of the scallops prior to serving. You can also add minced shallots or lemon juice for extra seasoning.

That’s all there is to it! Scallops present beautifully on the plate whether solo, on top of pasta or served with shrimp scampi. For a change of pace from the usual fish dinner, try pan-frying scallops for your next special meal.