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Feb 3, 2008 09:53 PM

Problem browning (sea) scallops

I have a number of recipes which specify you brown the scallops as first step. I seem to be unable to achieve this. Every time I cook scallops they will not brown, but end up being poached (because the cooking scallops exude so much liquid) no matter how hot my pan or how much grease, butter, whatever I use. I have tried drying the scallops with paper towels, and using a small amount of scallops in pan. Nothing is working for me. The scallops are either from a seafood market or Costco. They have probably been frozen before I get them. Is there any cure for this problem that anyone knows of?

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  1. The problem is the scallops themselves. They have been soaked in a substance which will never allow them to be dry no matter how much blotting you do. You need what are often are called "diver" scallops, or "dry" or "day boat" and are much more expensive. They have not been chemically treated and you can expect to pay $20/lb and upwards. Ask before you buy. You will not find the really good scallops at Cosco and if your seafood market has the good stuff they usually advertise it.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Candy

      the solution for sauteed water-plumped sea scallops can be found in Julia Child's The Way to Cook, p114.

      1. re: Candy

        I have bought the Costco "road show" scallops several times recently. They browned beautifully for me without any flour. They are different colors,,beige, salmon, etc.

        I love the brown "goo" in the pan. I wonder what causes that yummy browning.

        1. re: Rhee

          That is the Maillard reaction, which you can read up on.

      2. My strategy for browning scallops is to use a dry (no oil, no butter) nonstick pan. The juices they exude carmelize and brown quite deliciously (and quickly -- a couple minutes per side is generally all that's needed).

        1 Reply
        1. re: Karen_Schaffer

          For wet scallops I do the same, dry are great but I can't always afford them for a large group and we get so many good prices on the others, I use that for every day dishes. We do get good scallops year round down here in FL. But yes. I don't use a nonstick, but just put like 1 teaspoon olive oil for a very large pan and heat on medium high to high. Let it get hot and then cook. Don't flip, the biggest problem. I just did some last night. I did let them dry on a paper towel for about 10-20 minutes or less if you don't have time, salt and pepper and nothing else. They were very brown on each side. NIce and caramel in cold and definitely only a couple of minutes per side. It is easy and I have never had a problem. I think the non stick would also work, I just never used mine. I either use my cast iron or my stainless.

        2. Personally I think browning should be the *only* step when it comes to cooking scallops, especially when they are fresh.

          For some reason, I never had that problem, for the few times I cooked scallops.

          How big are the ones you use? I assume that if the way you cook them gives liquid, the bigger ones would be more likely to do so. You might want to try flouring or breading them before searing them in the pan, which should be quite hot.

          Also, if they are really big, you might want to slice them into thick rounds, so that more browning happens and the juices evaporate more.

          3 Replies
          1. re: tarteaucitron

            Rice flour is perfect for this, very thin and light. I use it to pan fry all seafood.

            1. re: Funwithfood

              Pan fry with rice flour and then remove the scallops. Add 1 shallot thin sliced and brown. Add a little extra butter to the pan. Add 1/4 cup white wine, then some oj 1/2 cup and reduce slightly. Add some blood oranges (regular will be just fine if you cant get blood oranges) and fresh mint. Reduce slightly to thicken and then top over the scallops. I like to serve with fresh scallion potato cakes or even a simple Jasmine rice is fine cooked in some white wine and chicken broth to and added scallions to bring the flavors together.

          2. It's important when you buy scallops to only buy fresh ones. AND only those that are NOT sitting in a sea of liquid. As Candy said, many places offering scallops have purchased those that have been chemically treated to keep them "fresh" longer, and that whitish liquid you see has permeated them. They will never dry out, and in fact, often they have a faint "soapsuds" taste from the chemicals.

            Overcooking scallops is a frequent problem, in the attempt to brown those that will not brown! I'm guessing that Costco never has the "day boat" scallops. (I don't know, because I don't shop there.)

            4 Replies
            1. re: ChefJune

              The chemical (sodium triphosphate aka STP) is not so much to keep them fresh, but to enable the scallops to absorb the maximum amount of water so they can charge twice as much. Some frozen scallops are not treated, but you'd have to look on the label.
              If you go to your fish store and tell them you want dry scallops, they will know what you are talking about.
              PS if you live near the coast like me, maybe you can find nice fresh ones for $8.99 or so, which is what I pay.

              1. re: coll

                Buying fresh is not an option if you are inland. In a perfect world you'd want those fresh off the boat scallops. But that's not happening. So how to make the best out of what we have which is the basic STP treated scallops? I just bought some, confident I can find a way. They were frozen and only $10.99/lb. As to the water weight, my grocer (regular chain type grocery) took some weight off for the water absorbtion. Now if your grocer doesn't just do this, you might suggest it since you know there's a bunch of water weight there if the scallops are still frozen.

              2. re: ChefJune

                Buying fresh as June suggests is not an option inland, even if the scallops look fresh .
                I'm in the Toronto area and I can get untreated frozen scallops at Costco. The label is Nantucket, and they are day boat, at about $11/lb., running about $1 each. As long as they stay with this supplier, these are my goto scallops.

                1. re: jayt90

                  I agree, frozen are fine, as long as they are "dry" and not chemically treated, and then thoroughly dried with paper towels.

              3. Okay Kathy,
                Everyone has told you that the problem lies with the water infused scallops and that is true. But for someone who doesn't have access to diver scallops and are picking them up at their local market the question remains, is there a way to get good browning. Yes there is. First make sure you get them as dry as possible with lots of paper towels. I give them a light coat in Wondra or rice flour which helps to keep the surface dry. Don't over crowd the pan to allow any exuded liquid a chance to evaporate and use butter which promotes browning better than oil to saute.

                3 Replies
                1. re: scubadoo97

                  This is the key, and I'm surprised that only one person said it. It's a light dusting of flour, and not futzing with them in the pan. Put the flour on a plate, pat one side with flour, pat the other side, then "toss" the scallop between your hands to get the excess off. Place into hot oiled pan, and do not touch them for 2 whole minutes. Sounds easy, but it's not. Flip, do the same thing.

                  1. re: cheesemonger

                    IMO, a scallop that's been cooked for 4 minutes is way-overcooked.

                  2. re: scubadoo97

                    I agree wondra is the best wegmans also has pan searing flour with I am assuming is very close to wondra. Always look for scallops more cream colored instead of stark white that means they usually have not been treated and will try and cook much better.