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Scallops - what am I doing wrong?

I'm a pretty good cook and I must say that most things I make turn out yummy :-) But I have never been able to cook scallops. I buy fresh, good quality ones so it's not the quality of them. I read they need to be be dry --- so tonight I dried them between 2 paper towels and attempted to sear them in olive oil/butter. No sear action!!! Just a white liquid in the pan. They were edible, but did not have a crusty layer - like the ones I had at a restuarnt last week. Please help!!! What am I doing wrong?

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  1. Sounds like your pan was not hot enough, you need to get your buuter/oil mixture sizzling, and then not sizzling - but not browning - when this happens it means all the moisture has evaporated from your butter (the oil keeps it from burning too quickly) put in your dried scallops - that part was correct, and brown them quickly on both sides. Don't worry about undercooking them, they will continue to cook on your serving plate because of the residual heat. With seafood, it's better to "err on the side of caution"

    1. Here's my technique.

      Very hot steel pan.
      Little grapeseed oil(or canola if you need)
      Seasoned scallops in pan, dried off is good.
      If they dont go "tssssssss" your pan is not hot enough.
      After about 20 seconds, throw in your butter, place pan in hot oven. 425 deg. Do not turn over.
      Roast for 2-3 minutes, assuming you are using large scallops.
      Take pan out of oven, turn scallops out and check out your deep dark golden brown "one side seared" scallops!

      1. you are using the wrong oil. You have to use corn oil or vegetable oil. even if your pan is so hot that its going to catch on fire olive oil will not make it crispy because it doesn't hold temperature as high as corn oil. olive oil is good for salad. corn oil is good for sear and frying. you should also dredge the scallop in light flour for a light crust.

        3 Replies
        1. re: jasmine802

          No need to dredge in flour if proper technique is employed.

          1. re: formerlyfingers

            Thanks for your tips formerlyfingers and everyone else. I see some areas where my technique can be imporved.

            A follow-up question if you won't mind: I was using previously frozen Mexican bay scallops that, based on who I bought them from, I believe were dry not wet (am I being naive?). Still, they gave off a ridiculous amount of liquid.

            Would you say, as I have deduced here, that I have a limited time to get that seared crust on and that I need to do that in a sufficiently hot pan and then, when any liquid is thrown off, I'll already have the crust in place?

            1. re: NYChristopher

              If they have been frozen they will be wet - even if they were once dry. Dry scallops refers to the fact they they were never put into a preservative "bath" on the boat - thus dry scallops are often called day boat scallops because they have to come in every day if they don't put them in preservative. You can appoximate dry by drying them but it won't be the same.

        2. NO coated pan! - Steel all the way, and very hot!

          1. There's another definition for "dry scallops" meaning scallops that have not been soaked in sodium tripolyphosphate ('wet scallops"). Such soaking is common practice for scallops. It helps them retain moisture, which makes them "look better" to some consumers and also prevents them from losing water == weight == market profits.

            It is really pretty difficult to properly sear a "wet scallop"... paper towels won't get you there. The result you describe is typical, as the excess moisture pools in the pan.

            I'd make absolutely sure you aren't buying treated scallops.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Pincho

              I have to agree with Pincho. It doesn't sound like you are doing anything wrong. It sounds like it is the Scallops.

              After I peel off the little white muscle I season my scallops with S&P. The scallops, if they are fresh, should not need to be dried off.

              I heat a little butter and EVOO in the pan, let it get hot, then put in the Scallops. When they are opaque half way through, turn them over.

              That's it.

              1. re: Fleur

                I'll agree with this as well. "Good quality" leaves me wondering what exactly you purchased. Unless you are 100% sure that the scallops you're buying are dry, I'd buy frozen scallops in the bag at your local grocery store. These aren't the same as true dry scallops, but my experience with them has been much better than the dreadful grocery store case. For one, they aren't sitting in a refrigerated case for hours or days on end.

              2. re: Pincho

                Right. That milky discharge is a clear indicator of "wet" scallops. Make sure the scallops you buy are called "dry" or "diver" scallops in the store.

                The indication with sea scallops is price. Dry quality scallops will cost you anywhere from
                $12 - $20 a pound depending on the time of year and your location.

                1 Reply
                1. re: byrd

                  You can dry them a bit and hope to get a better sear, I have. I let them set on a paper towel for a minutes fo and then pat dry good and season. It does work. Not my favorite by any means, but it is possible. I made them last week. A friends house I went to bought them for dinner, I had no choice, I was cooking. It did work. I even through a very light toss of corn starch on the wet scallops to get a little to draw away the moisture and it did help brown.

                2. I dive into the ocean and catch the scallops myself: have eaten them raw, seared butter, olive oil, and mazola. Honestly if you have good fresh scallops you can take a crap on them and they'll still taste good. Just like any other seafood, less is more when it's fresh.

                  O yeah, whatr they said. make sure it's hot enough.

                  1. I dry the scallops until bone dry (I usually let them come to room temp between two double layers of paper towels on a plate).

                    I salt generously.

                    I heat up 1 T each butter and olive oil in a medium high nonstick skillet or sauté pan (yes, I've done them in my traditional-surface pans, I just prefer cooking scallops in nonstick) until sizzling, then place the scallops in the pan.

                    DO NOT so much as poke them until you starty to see the brown caramelization start to creep up the sides from the bottom. Then (only thn), turn each one over to see if you hav a perfect sear; if it's mottled, put it right back down on the same side.

                    One by one, flip each scallop over and cook for 20-30 seconds until the other side is cooked.

                    This technique will work best with dry dayboat scallops, but it will also work with the more-available treated kind.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: wittlejosh

                      The point that is being missed here is that no matter how much you squeeze, wipe or towel dry a " wet" scallop it is NOT a "dry" scallop due to the fact that the chemical used to preserve it is still throughout the scallop. Unfortunately some people, due to their locations and the cost might never know a great scallop, but good scallops are still better than pieces of shark being passed off as scallops.

                    2. I dont' know what kind of whisper-down-the-lane misunderstanding has resulted in the notion that you can dry off a chemical soaked supermarket scallop and properly sear it, but it is a terrible shame. Though quite funny!

                      Dry scallops are freshly caught and shucked and flown to your fishmonger without being tossed in a chemical solution as are virtually all supermarket scallops. If you see any whitish liquid, if the scallops sort of snuggle into one another you're looking at a product that is unfit for consumption. Until you see what a scallop is supposed to look like, that may not make a lot of sense. But dry scallops, diver scallops or day boat scallops are the only ones you should ever consider buying. They will have a sign. They will cost more. They should cost more, harvesting them and shipping them properly is involved and requires costly equipment. Dipping them in phosphates is a good way for suppliers to extend the shelf life but it leaves a horrible tasting scallop that cannot be seared properly.

                      A good rule of thumb is never to consider buying scallops in a supermarket. Chain supermarkets do not carry dry scallops. Whole Foods has them, but usually you'll get a better product at the fishmonger.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Kater

                        I have, not my favorite, would never buy them myself, but I had to cook some for a friend. Got a great sear and taste with a little work. Not impossible. I do buy supermarket chain quite often, they are dry and I do know the fish guy very well. They are quite tasty and my turn out perfect, company or catering, yes only from the fish guy, but when you work till 7 and then close at 5 ... you don't have much choice, I work weekends too. Soo, I either enjoy good scallops and great when I can or eat Micky Dees. I'll take my chances. They aren't great, but not too bad if done right.

                      2. those wet scallops are only fit for stew, where texture doesn't really matter. and frozen, fugeddaboutit.

                        if the op is able to get "dry", i always sear mine in a super hot cast iron pan, having seasoned very generously with s & p. non-stick can't give a serious sear, and stainless doesn't get sufficiently hot to do so either. also, just oil, no butter. finish with butter or sauce at the end.

                        1. Where I live, I don't have access to really excellent quality scallops - so we buy what we can and make it work. I have been able to use frozen - allegedly dog-food-worthy - scallops and cook them so that they are good. Not great - but good. Actually really good. Thaw, salt liberally and drain. Then dry between paper towels. Sear over very high heat in a pan with oil (olive has worked for me). The drying, the salting and the hot hot pan are the key.

                          Are they anywhere close to a freshly caught scallop? I'm not stupid enough to think so, but so what? What I've prepared at home has been much better than some scallops I've eaten in restaurants for ten times the cost.

                          1. You can cook supermarket scallops. Just put them in a pan full of water with a little milk and turn on the burner. Three to four minutes after the first bubbles appear, your scallops are ready.

                            1. Make sure you have a very hot pan.

                              And if you are using a 10-12" skillet, cook no more than 5 or 6 scallops at a time.

                              Even frozen grocery scallops come out good, if you are letting them dry out on paper towels.

                              I add a teaspoon of butter to the hot oil in the pan.

                              Place skillet on medium high, let get very hot.
                              2 minutes on the first side, and about a 1 minute of the second side, turning with tongs.
                              Don't move them one they are in the pan, except to turn them.

                              I don't add sauces, just a sqeeze of lemon.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: mcel215

                                Thank you, totally agree, not the best, but ok?

                              2. After reading about dry vs wet scallops, I called the local fish market and was informed they had dry. As noted, they cost 18.00 a lb. Damn were they good.
                                Can't always get them however, and I love scallops, so I will buy the frozen at Costco.
                                I'll saute them. Sometimes I'll batter and deep fry. If this is dog food, well scratch my ears and let me pee on the paper.

                                1. Try grilling them after brush them with oil and a dry rub. I would not try "taking a crap on them" as eezerik mentioned above.

                                  1. Wow, ignorance is bliss. I made scallops on New Year's Eve. I bought them at the grocery store (hard to find a fismonger in the Midwest), I did NOT dry them between paper towels, I did sprinkle generously with Kosher salt, and seared them in a stainless steel frying pain w/ Olive Oil - a couple minutes each side (added a little butter & lemon juice at the end). They were seared beautifully and tasted incredible. Based, on previous postings this would seem to be an impossibility. Just lucky I guess...

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Mushroom

                                      I do dry, but yes, dry just for a minute or 2, season, and saute nothing more. My grocery store ones were fine. I totally agree and no just no lucky. Dry fresh are the best, but some of us don't have that luxury.

                                      Not a possibility at all.

                                    2. Agree that its definitelythe scallop is wet versus dry, and if the former, drying withpaper towels is only dryingthe outside, not the inside.

                                      To the point of which pan. I use a non-stick pan, get it very hot, a little EVOO and sear. Yes, it does get seared, yes it does get brown, no it does not stick. If the scallops are dry, i just place them down and stare at them, DO NOT shake the pan. When the edges look browned I pick up with tongs and flip them to theother side and once again, leave them alone.

                                      My favorite is to make a wild mushroom risotto and place 4-6 scallops on top. :-))

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: jfood


                                        I take it that portion control is not a big priority at your house!

                                        ; )

                                        1. re: Kater

                                          Thanks Kater, nice catch.

                                          No I am not in training for the Nathans hot dog eating contest. 406 scallops would be a little much. That probably converts into 30-40 pounds.

                                          Good thing the "edit" button is still active so i can change to 4-6 from 406.

                                          Excuse me while i chug a cup of coffee.


                                      2. If you've ever seen abalone in the store, each one sits by itself, like a filet mignon. That's how good scallops should look, individual and like meat (as opposed to ?? mayonnaise? squid for bait?). But not orange like abalone :)

                                        1. dry sea scallops, notice they are not white:

                                          1. As noted above, Whole Foods has only dry scallops- even in the Chicago area!

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: MikeLM

                                              Reading this thread got me hungry for scallops- got out my pack of WF frozen scallops, and doing them in a little grapeseed oil.

                                              When I asked the WF fishmonger about buying scallops from Chicago's major seafood supplier - Supreme Lobster - he said emphatically they didn't use them for anything, and went on to explain the wet vs. dry situation which has been described above. He said their frozen scallops were dry, and the package confirms that. Think I'll put a little bacon with them...

                                            2. Hello . . . this is a bit late to add to the discussion. . . but I have found that the wet method is actually easier for me. . . as always, try to start with fresh sea or bay scallops or flash frozen ones - just like one poster said when it comes to "the fruits of the sea" the fresher the better! . . . We used to "prep" them this way in the hotel restaurant as well, but I still get funny looks from folks when I tell them about my milk method. . . which was . . . rinse thawed scallops first (if you'd like to use slightly salted water you may, just be sure not to add salt in the prep!). . . then I'd carefully drain them, soak them in cold milk for 20 minutes. . . (cover the bowl with saran wrap and just set it out on a cool counter)

                                              Shouldn't matter what cooking medium you use. . . just remember that scallops cook fast – ordinarily no more than (2-3 minutes on each side) or 4-6 minutes total on a medium heat in a skillet . . . Remember you’ll need to balance your heat with the type of fat you use with the type of medium you use. . . for example – scallops wrapped in beef bacon (scallops presoaked in milk and NOT rinsed in salt water). . . Can be cooked on the grill (use skewers making sure you concentrate on cooking the bacon thoroughly and oddly enough not the scallops) or pan-searing using toothpicks to hold the bacon in place. . . If you use the pan method you may want to consider taking an electric burner out on the deck or patio and cooking them out there. . . take a piece of bacon and fry it up on medium/medium high. . . take out the bacon – leave the renderings and grease in the pan! The key here is to make sure your bacon gets fully cooked, so always have the scallops bacon side down facing your heat source – don’t worry about the scallops. . . I say this because usually you just cook scallops until they are translucent and not a second more. . . when you wrap it in bacon though – you can get away with a much longer cooking time almost 10 minutes on each side. . . in a non-stick pot you can just line them up – too much moisture? – dump out the excess “water” / “milk” ! the bacon will produce enough fat to cook itself and keep the scallops tender. . . Experiment! And have fun with it! :)

                                              1. You have not purchased 'dry' scallops. Because the liquid is coming from the scallops, it means they were treated with triphosphate solution. This only makes the scallop weigh more and does nothing for flavor. The best bet for a truly 'dry' scallop is to buy them in the shell at the dock or buy bags of IQF in the freezer case and then thaw them over night in the fridge. You will NEVER get a good sear on a wet scallop

                                                1. You may not have purchased scallops at all. There is a great deal of fraud in the seafood industry. I purchased bay "scallops" from a large discount grocer and they shrank to the size, shape and color of pencil erasers. They were all perfectly cylindrical. Most likely they were punched out of shark meat. Lesson learned: Buy seafood from reputable source.

                                                  As other posters have advised, olive oil does not reach a good temp for searing.

                                                  Finally, you need to scour each scallop dry in a clean dish towel, pressing out as much moisture as you can.

                                                  Good luck.