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What is your method for pan searing and finishing scallops?

  • Fowler Feb 20, 2013 10:38 AM

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?

          1. re: rasputina

            In the bag

      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.

          1. re: biondanonima

            Ditto.

            1. re: EricMM

              Double ditto.

        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:

                http://www.culinate.com/columns/ask_h...

                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.

                        2. I don't really do any of the above, but very similar to each. I sear on both sides on a cast iron pan, carbon steel pan or a stainless steel pan, but I don't finish in the oven.

                          1. Thanks to each of you for your advice. And next time around I am definitely going to try the flour. That never occurred to me but it makes sense.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Fowler

                              And don't hesitate to talk to the counterman. The more vendors that know we're on to nondry scallops, the better.

                              1. re: Fowler

                                Also to help dry them, I usually set them on a paper towel while bringing them to room temperature.

                              2. Now that I know about the flour idea, have any of you ever used a tiny amount of sugar on the surface of the scallops to enhance the maillard reaction?

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: Fowler

                                  Sugar might have a tendency to burn and blacken. Increasing pH will speed it up. Baking soda is known to enhance the Maillard reaction

                                  1. re: scubadoo97

                                    I would not use either sugar or baking soda. Don't want the flavor of either in my scallops.

                                    1. re: ChefJune

                                      Nor would I, just stating that baking soda is used to enhance the Maillard reaction. Scallops brown pretty well on their own.

                                  2. re: Fowler

                                    Wondra Flour s the way to go for maximum browning/crispiness IMHO

                                    1. re: twyst

                                      Wondra is my go to secret for good crisp browning of fish and scallops. I think I heard Eric Rupert uses it a lot in his restaurant.

                                      1. re: scubadoo97

                                        >>>I think I heard Eric Rupert uses it a lot in his restaurant.<<<

                                        When I saw your comment it rang a bell. Eric Ripert definitely uses Wondra when making some types of seafood. If the preparation is good enough for him, it is certainly good enough for me.

                                        Thanks for the reminder, scubadoo97.

                                  3. Getting scallops not treated with phosphates has become so difficult I gave up. About a year ago I had some in a seafood restaurant that were definitely "wet" and it dang near broke my heart.

                                    What IS this world coming to??

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: ItalianNana

                                      Actually, for the past couple of years, NONE of our markets - even the supermarkets - carry chemical-soaked scallops. In fact, they even have signs up to that effect. Now whether or not the scallops are soaked in plain water is a whole nother story. . . . But while they're definitely not "dry pack", they're still enjoyable.

                                    2. It's threads like these that remind me how blessed we are in this region to have ready access to quality fresh seafood. Just about every good fish monger here, and even a few supermarkets, have fresh day boat dry sea scallops available year round. Even better, are the local Cape Cod or Nantucket bay scallops which are available only between late Oct. to March or so.

                                      I can't imaging dreging them in flour or adding sugar to sear them! All you need is a hot pan, a small amount of canola, grapeseed, or veg. oil (no olive as flavor is too strong and smoke point too low). Flash them undesturbed in the pan for 2-3 minutes, flip and repeat. Serve them up with fresh lemon. I like to make a pilaf or polenta and grilled apagus to go with.

                                      1. Stainless. If you have to use frozen scallops, I suggest "air drying" them in the fridge overnight. Pat dry with paper towels before searing.

                                        1. i am all for the 2nd option.
                                          i use a mix of mostly peanut oil and a little butter. i simply dry them as much as i can and then salt and pepper them. then go to the heat.

                                          1. Who were the experts? Sounds to me like an eenie meenie miney mo situation, if they all have good credentials. So many cooks (more often home cooks than real chefs) insist that THEIRS is the sole best method for preparing "kirgilnix", when discussions show that there are various means to achieving the desired result.

                                            I saw the searing episode of Martha Stewart's new PBS show the other day. She used a nonstick skillet and stressed that while you need to let meat alone until it's ready to turn, when searing scallops you need to move them around so they don't weld themselves in one spot, and tear when you turn them. I think she may have oven-finished them but can't swear to that part of it.