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Feb 20, 2013 10:38 AM

What is your method for pan searing and finishing scallops?

In just the last week I have witnessed three "experts/chefs" on TV insisting their way of making pan seared scallops is the best method.

Here are the three methods:

Cast iron pan on stove top, vegetable oil, sear scallops on one side, do not move until flipping them once and finish in the oven.

Stainless steel pan on stove top, vegetable oil, sear scallops on one side, do not move them around until flipping them once and finished on the stove.

Non-stick skillet on stove top, grape-seed oil, sear scallops while constantly jerking the pan back and forth so the scallops move around, flip them and continue to jerk the pan around until the scallops are cooked through.

I see both advantages and flaws in each method. How do you prepare your seared scallops?

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  1. Door #2.
    But, I'm never successful because I can't get fresh (not frozen) scallops. They seem to maintain water no matter how much I work on draining them. Consequently, if I do get them slightly browned, I've managed to overcook them.
    I now order scallops in seaside restaurants.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Gail

      Fresh is not an option here on the west coast of Fla. All sea scallops have been frozen at some point.

      What i do is to dry them very well, season and dust with Wondra. Quick sear on both sides but mostly on one side keeping them rare in the middle.

      Recently tried a sous vide method of cooking at 140f for 20 min the chilled down and seared the next day. Results were excellent. The scallops were still rare but had lost some of the water during the water bath. Less spatter and browned really well.

      1. re: scubadoo97

        Oh, I like that! I don't have the equipment to hold a steady temperature unmonitored, but (as an old boss was fond of saying) anyone can stand almost anything for twenty minutes. And 140º will be safe for little Ziplocs, too, if I don't want to haul out the FoodSaver …

        I'm pretty much stuck with boat scallops, too, so I'm very much interested in giving this a try.

        1. re: scubadoo97

          How do they lose water in the water bath when they are vacuum sealed anyway? Where could the water be going?

      2. the 2nd method and sub butter and evoo for the veg oil.

        3 Replies
        1. re: treb

          This. The butter is key - it aids in browning, so you get good color on them before they're overcooked. Definitely no need to put them in the oven - even big fat scallops will cook through in about 2 mins per side on the stovetop.

        2. First, be sure you buy dry scallops. If they have been soaked in a preserving solution, they will gush water as you cook them and brown only when they're the texture of tires. You can't dry this out of them.

          7 Replies
          1. re: sr44

            I agree sr44 and I only purchase day boat dry packed diver scallops. Expensive but they are worth it, IMHO.

            1. re: sr44

              I asked once, and the counterman didn't know what I meant by "dry scallops." Are previously frozen scallops sold in supermarkets normally "wet" or can they be either? Where do you have to go to be sure to get "dry" scallops?

              1. re: GH1618

                This seems to be one of the better explanations:


                You may have to go to a fishmonger. If you already are and the counterman "doesn't know" the difference, run out of the store. Don't walk, don't look to left or right, run.

                1. re: GH1618

                  I can get them at several local stores including Whole Foods and Wegmans but if they aren't familiar with them I'd go elsewhere. I once experienced wet scallops and the taste still makes me want to vomit.

                  1. re: GH1618

                    previously frozen scallops are not likely "wet" with chemicals. However, they do lose texture in the freezing, and may take on water from being frozen. Drying them thoroughly is key to success with frozen scallops.

                    1. re: ChefJune

                      That's good to know. I don't mind frozen seafood. I think freezing has a bad rep left over from the time od old freezer technology. Modern flash-freezing is a lot better. Transporting unfrozen seafood takes its toll, as well.

                  2. re: sr44

                    I fail to see how you can properly cook the "wet scallops" except in a soup. You need dry scallops to pull off a good recipe saute or broil. I was at a buffet that had the crappy wet scallops in a stew? and it was kind of OK

                  3. I start with dry scallops - sometimes lightly tossed in some flour; sometimes not. Extra-virgin olive oil, hot but not smoking in a cast-iron pan. Add scallops (not too many at a time!) & leave for a couple of minutes without moving them (I choose one to sacrifice for checking), then flip them over individually with tongs to do the otherside. Done. I've never found a need to "finish in the oven". Scallops - like nearly all seafood - take a ridiculously short time to cook & can overcook in seconds, which is a travesty.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Bacardi1

                      This method is almost exactly how I do them, and they always come out fantastic. I make sure to dry the scallops thoroughly, use extra virgin olive oil and a cast-iron pan. I'll dust with flour if I want a little more crust on them. Making sure they have ample room in the pan is also key. I don't move them other than the flip. Timing is key. They really almost never need more than 2-3 minutes on the first side and a minute or less on the second side, and that timing is for pretty large scallops.

                      1. re: Bacardi1

                        All those little scallops used to be honest and dry, Today the uneducated scallop cook is screwed and should be cooking a bag of frozen peas or a Marie Calender dinner instead

                      2. I've never ever finished scallops in the oven. I just don't see the point. They are not that thick or that wide that it takes a long time to get them cooked on the stove. Non-stick? Absolutely not nor do I see the point of jerking the pan around when you are trying to sear, and in a non-stick pan?? Boggles the mind.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: rasputina

                          I'd think if you tried to finish them in the oven you'd end up with overcooked pencil erasers. Not a good thing.