Pan-Seared Sea Scallops in a Lemon-Butter Sauce

I have a man who adores scallops, and unselfishly (with just a dash of pride) he can blame me.  I love seafood, and I’ll admit it openly.  On a date to a local hibachi restaurant, I ordered shrimp and scallops.  As is our way, we ended up sharing some of our meals with each other, and, wishing to expand his foodie horizons, I gave him a scallop.  It cautiously tried it, and it was love at first bite.  Now, whenever possible, he orders scallops.  Our favorite place to get them is when we’re on vacation in Ogunquit, Maine, but let’s face it:  when you’re that close to the sea, it’s a damn travesty to not order as much seafood as possible!

Eh, enough of my introduction.  Let’s get to the recipe:  Pan-Seared Sea Scallops in a Lemon-Butter Sauce.  Now, a slight disclaimer:  you will want to adjust flavorings to your liking here.  I’ll give you the basics, but if you like more lemon then by all means add more juice… add additional liquids to the pan if you want more sauce… you get the point.  Next, and please read this carefully:  DO NOT BE AFRAID TO COOK SCALLOPS!  For some reason everyone seems nervous about cooking them!  I can only imagine it’s because they appear so delicate and that the cost can be high.  Trust me, if you can get over your fear long enough it’ll be so worth it.

About cooking scallops:  it’s easier than it seems, but you have to be right at the pan.  You can’t walk away.  Make sure your pan, oil, and butter are screaming hot.  This means a high heat to being with, and this will lead to a gorgeous crust on the outside.  A crust on the outside means a moist, juicy scallop on the inside.  Speaking of the insides, please, for all that is holy and good in this universe, don’t overcook your scallops.  The insides should be soft and jello-like, not dry.  You may think you’ve undercooked them, but you haven’t.  Just breathe; I promise it’s ok.  Lastly, don’t over-crowd your pan.  If you’re like me, you want to get dinner done and on the table sooner rather than later.  I feel your pain, but work these suckers in batches.  Overcrowding your pan will lead to steaming, not searing, and that’s just a sad thing.

So, onto the recipe!

Pan-Seared Sea Scallops in a Lemon-Butter Sauce

  • 1 pound large sea scallops   NOTE:  ask your fishmonger for dry scallops; they haven’t been injected with any additional juices so you reduce the likelihood of steaming.  They will also remove the foot for you if you ask nicely, otherwise just take off the little tough part sticking off the side of the scallop with a small knife or just take it off with your fingers and you’re good!
  • About a cup of white wine.
  • The juice of one lemon.  Reserve the peels.
  • 3 cloves of minced garlic (adjust to taste)
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • 2 TBSP olive oil (it doesn’t need to be extra virgin because you’re cooking with it)
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Take the scallops out of their package and place them on paper towels, bottom and top.  Pat them dry.  This will absorb any extra moisture and reduce the chance that you’ll steam them.  While they stay on the paper towels, place your oil in your pan (a skillet works well) to begin heating it up.  Your pan can be on high heat.  You want this to be screaming hot, like I said before, so that when the scallops hit the pan they immediately start to sear.  Sprinkle the scallops liberally with salt and pepper to taste on both flat sides.  Ready?  Let’s get them in the pan!  Using tongs, grasp the scallops so a flat side is going to go on the pan.  Place the scallop in the pan (be cautious of spitting hot fats from the pan) and leave it alone.  You heard me.  Don’t move it.  Your scallop will “tell you” when it’s done.  Place a couple scallops on your pan, but don’t overcrowd.  It’s better to work in batches (example:  in a 12″ skillet I never put more than 6 scallops on my pan in a shot).  Watch the bottom edge of your scallops.  You’ll see a pale brown crust or coloring forming on the pan-side of the scallop, usually after about 2-3 minutes on the heat.  At that point, gently try to pick up the scallop with your tongs.  If it moves easily, you can flip it over to cook the other side.  If not, leave it a few seconds more and try again; this is what I mean by the scallop “telling you” when it’s done.  It’ll only take another 30 seconds on the other side of the scallops to cook it.  At that point, transfer them to a plate and gently tent with foil to keep them warm.  You can add another tablespoon of oil if it seems like your pan is getting a little too dry.  Once you’re done searing your scallops, melt the butter in the pan and add your minced garlic and give it a quick stir for a few seconds to release the flavors.  Now the fun part that leads to easy cleanup:  pour your wine into the pan and deglaze it.  This means take your spatula and scrape all that goodness off the bottom (it helps flavor your sauce), then add your lemon juice.  You can turn your heat down to medium-high, and just simmer your sauce until it has reduced by about half; this will thicken it up.  At this point I would plate my scallops over a bed of white rice for each individual serving, then just pour some of the pan sauce over the top of it all.  Yum!

Serve with some white wine and your favorite steamed vegetables.  Easier than you thought, faster than you thought, and people will love that you put in the extra effort.  Enjoy the accolades, and happy cooking!

— Sarah

One thought on “Pan-Seared Sea Scallops in a Lemon-Butter Sauce

  1. This recipe is out of this world fabulous. I was totally one of those people afraid of cooking scallops – until I saw Sarah make this, in my very own kitchen, with her own bare hands. You really can do it! And you will be so happy that you did. 🙂 – Sam

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s