If you think delicious, golden, pan-seared scallops are only for ordering at a fine dining restaurant, think again! You don’t have to be a trained chef to nail this technique. Follow along with our step-by-step instructions, photos and video to get 5-star results: sweet, plump and tender sea scallops sauteed to perfection with a perfectly burnished bronze crust on the exterior. They are finished simply with buttery garlic, lemon and parsley.

the scallops close-up from the side on a platter

Why Try This Seared Scallop Recipe

When you are making a special occasion meal, for a birthday, holidays or just want to impress house guests, put these sauteed scallops on the menu!

We love this pan seared scallops recipe and our taste testers agree they are simply perfect! Like our classic Steamed Mussels with white wine, Pan Seared Salmon or our Crispy Crab Cakes, this scallop recipe is one of those culinary classics we wanted to share for the upcoming holiday season. Seared scallops make the perfect special occasion dinner for Christmas Eve, a dinner party or to make for your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day.

Serve them with homemade rolls, Green Beans and Risotto or piping hot linguini.

Ingredient Notes

the ingredients on a white table with text overlay labels

Dry Sea Scallops

If you are new to cooking scallops you’ll need to know a couple of things before you buy.

Bay vs. Sea Scallops: First of all, there are roughly four hundred species of scallops but at the grocery store, fish market or seafood counter, you are likely only going to see one or two options. You will see either bay scallops and/or sea scallops. Sea Scallops (species of Pecten and Placopecten) are usually about an inch or so in width while Bay Scallops are about the size of a nickel in diameter. Bay scallops are perfect for scallop tacos, seafood stews and seafood chowder. For this recipe, you will want nice big sea scallops.

Dry Scallops vs. Wet Scallops: The important thing to know is whether or not the scallops have been treated with polyphosphates to help keep them fresh. This is a chemical solution used to treat the scallops which gets absorbed into the muscle and will weep out as the scallop cooks. Treated scallops, also sometimes called wet scallops, do not brown nicely and should be avoided if possible.

What to Look For: You’ll want dry-pack sea scallops for pan fried scallops.

  • Look for scallops that are labeled dry scallops. Dry-pack means that they were not treated and instead are either very fresh or they were frozen at sea.
  • If you are in a coastal area you may be able to purchase what is known as “day boat scallops” which are brought to shore the same day they are caught and you know that they are very fresh.
  • Untreated sea scallops will have a duller off-white pallor and sometimes a slightly rosy hue. Treated scallops, or wet-pack scallops, will often look bright white and have a glossy plump appearance.
  • Fresh scallops should have a sweet smell of the ocean, and they should not smell fishy.

Additional Ingredients

  • Oil: Choose a high-heat neutral cooking oil to sear the scallops. We recommend either organic canola oil, avocado oil, refined peanut oil or grapeseed oil. Do not use unrefined oils or those with a low smoke point such as coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil.
  • Salt and Pepper: Kosher salt (not table salt) and black pepper is all you’ll need to season the scallops before searing.
  • Butter and Garlic: Once the scallops are seared, you’ll need a little unsalted butter and fresh garlic to make a little sauce for them.
  • Parsley and Lemon: To finish the scallops add on chopped flat-leaf parsley and lemon wedges.

How To Prep Sea Scallops For Cooking

removing the scallop "foot" and blotting them dry

Remove Foot: To prep your scallops you will need to remove the “foot” which is the catch muscle that is responsible for holding the shells shut. [Left Photo.] This small side muscle is quite tough, but can easily be pulled free from the tender swimming muscle that we eat.

Blot Dry: You’ll also want to pat the scallops dry before continuing. Lay them out on a plate lined with a couple of paper towels then use a few more paper towels to blot away any moisture. [Right photo.]

How To Sear Scallops Like A Pro

Alright, so you’ve bought the right scallops, and you have prepped them properly. That’s half the battle of learning how to make scallops! Now the last key is making sure to sear them in a very hot skillet without overcrowding them. Follow the below details for perfectly cooked scallops!

It is important to note that for cooking scallops in a pan, do not use a nonstick pan as the cooking temperature will be far too hot. Use a heavy-bottomed skillet, one that is either stainless steel or a cast iron skillet instead.

heat the skillet and season the scallops

Step 1: Preheat the Skillet

Heat the oil in the skillet over high heat. Once heated, the oil will become very thin and start to shimmer. When you see the smoke just starting to let off whisps of vapor (not heavily smoking) you’ll know that the pan is ready.

Step 2: Season the Scallops

Meanwhile, while the skillet heats pat the scallops dry again with a paper towel and sprinkle all over with salt and pepper. (Do not do this in advance or it will cause the scallops to become wet and won’t sear as well.)

Sear the scallops on one side then flip over

Step 3: Sear Scallops

Carefully lay the scallops, one by one, flat-side-down, into the hot oil leaving space around each one. If need be, you can cook the scallops in two batches. (In fact, that’s what we did for these photos.) Do not overcrowd the pan. Sear undisturbed until the bottom is golden brown and the scallops are starting to turn opaque along the edges of the bottom, 2 to 4 minutes. *See important tips below.

PRO TIP: Sometimes if the skillet is not quite hot enough or if the heat is uneven, some of the scallops may weep and let off juice. If this happens, rotate the pan so that the heat is more evenly distributed across the skillet. Flip those that are sizzling in the hot oil and browned on the bottom, but let any that are simmering in their juices get up to a higher temp, another 30 seconds or so. Then flip them. Usually this will give them enough time to brown up nicely.

Step 4: Flip Over

Carefully flip over the scallops onto the second side using a thin slotted spatula. If any scallop sticks, let it continue cooking for 1 minute or until they release from the pan. Let them cook on the second side until the scallops are just barely opaque, up the sides and the bottoms are browned, 1 to 3 minutes.

Make the garlic butter

Step 5: Make Garlic Butter

Similarly to our Garlic Herb Lamb Chops, we make a quick little garlic butter to finish off the perfectly cooked scallops. To do so, transfer the scallops to a plate and cover them with aluminum foil. Then add the butter to the hot skillet and let it melt. Immediately add in the garlic, stirring constantly. Pour the garlic butter over the scallops and serve with parsley and lemon wedges.

pan seared scallops up close from overhead with parsley on top

FAQs For Perfectly Cooked Scallops

How long does it take to sear scallops?

On average, it takes about 5 minutes total to pan-fry large sea scallops without overcooking them. Timing will vary depending on how hot your pan is, how plump the scallops are, and how crowded the pan is.

How do you get the perfect sear on scallops?

Scallops have a hefty price tag, so you want to make sure they are perfectly seared. The key is to avoid adding any liquid to the pan or the scallops will steam instead of fry in the oil. Dry them well and then make sure your skillet (and oil) are very hot. Lastly, do not add too many scallops at once to ensure they get a good sear.

Is it better to cook scallops in butter or oil?

Butter has milk solids (liquid whey) and fat, while oil is fat only. Therefore oil is better for cooking scallops than butter because it can get hotter and it will not burn. Make sure to choose a high smoke point oil such as canola or grapeseed oil. That said, the flavor of butter is delicious with scallops, so we finish the dish with melted butter at the very end.

What temperature do you cook scallops in the pan?

Use high heat for cooking scallops in a pan. Make sure to preheat the oil in the pan until the oil has almost reached the smoking point.

How do you know when a scallop is done?

Scallops are done when they are opaque all the way through.

Are fresh or frozen scallops better for pan frying?

Fresh scallops are better because they do not let off a lot as much liquid as frozen. Untreated previously frozen scallops work too, but you must make sure they are completely thawed, and prepped for cooking in the above manner by removing the outer muscle and thoroughly drying them before cooking. Do not use wet scallops or frozen treated scallops for pan searing as they will not brown. (See more above in our section about buying scallops for searing.)

Make Ahead, Leftovers, Storage and Reheating

Make Ahead: To prep this recipe ahead, remove the foot from the scallops, chop the garlic and parsley and cut the lemon wedges. Wait until the last minute to season and cook the scallops.

Leftovers and Storage: Keep leftover cooked scallops in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Reheating: We love leftover cooked scallops served cold on top of a Caesar Salad or Spring Fattoush with Snap Peas and Mint for lunch. To reheat them, gently warm them in a non-stick skillet over medium heat with a little of the melted garlic butter. Keep a lid on the skillet to trap in the steam.

deliciously browned scallops over linguini

Serving Suggestions

  • Pasta: You really can’t beat these scallops with pasta for a special occasion. We like spaghetti, fettuccini or angel hair pasta, topped with perfect pan-seared scallops and that glorious garlic butter sauce spooned over it. Add on a sprinkle of parsley and serve with your favorite mocktail, a dry riesling, chenin blanc or Sauvignon blanc.
  • Bacon: Scallops are also classically paired with bacon. Our French Lentils with Bacon is excellent with seafood, or try a classic Frisee and Lardons Bistro Salad and Baguette for a cozy French inspired meal.
  • Lemon: We love lemon with seafood, so our Quinoa with Lemon comes to mind. For a lower-carb alternative serve them with cauliflower rice, mashed cauliflower or zoodles. Don’t forget to squeeze lemon juice over the top of the scallops.
  • Bread: As we mentioned above, rolls are great for sopping up the butter garlic sauce as is our quick homemade soft wheat bread.
  • Tarragon: Fresh tarragon is great with scallops so you could do our Tarragon vinaigrette with your salad or try asparagus with tarragon vinaigrette.
the seared scallops in the pan with parsley

Substitutions and Variations To Try

  • Dairy Free: You can omit the butter and use extra-virgin olive oil to cook the butter at the end.
  • Anise: Add chopped tarragon to the garlic butter and a tablespoon of an anise-flavored liquor such as Pernod or Sambuca. Serve with baguette for a first course.
  • Cream: Instead of the garlic butter you can sizzle a little minced shallot in the pan (add more oil if need be) then splash in a little cream. Let it reduce for a couple of minutes, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Finish it with any juices from the plate and chopped fresh chives. Spoon over the scallops and grate on a little lemon zest to finish it off. Serve over rice or pilaf.
  • Cherry Tomatoes and Spinach: Once the scallops are on the plate, add whole grape tomatoes and a couple handfuls of baby spinach to the skillet. Cover with a lid and let cook for about a minute to wilt the spinach. Remove the lid and stir to cook until the spinach is wilted and the tomatoes are breaking down and getting saucy. Pour any juices the scallops let off back into the skillet and then serve with the scallops over pasta.

More Restaurant-Style Meals At Home

At Healthy Seasonal Recipes, we specialize in cooking with fresh veggies and creating weeknight meals. Sign up HERE to get more produce-forward dinner ideas for FREE! If you make this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review. I would love to hear what you thought! Happy Cooking! ~Katie

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side view of scallops

Pan Seared Scallops


5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

5 from 5 reviews

  • Author: Katie Webster
  • Total Time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x

Description

This professionally tested recipe will yield pan seared scallops with a perfectly golden brown crust every time. If you have a special occasion, these garlic butter scallops with lemon fit the bill perfectly! They are golden brown and crisp on the outside and tender and sweet on the inside- just like a fine dining restaurant!


Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 tablespoons high-heat cooking oil such as avocado oil, grape seed oil or organic canola oil
  • 1 pound dry sea scallops, foot removed, patted dry (see tip)
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • Freshly chopped parsley and lemon wedges for serving

Instructions

  1. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat.
  2. While skillet heats pat the scallops dry again with a paper towel and sprinkle all over with salt and pepper.
  3. When the pan is hot and the oil is shimmering and just barely beginning to smoke, carefully lay the scallops, one by one, flat-side-down, into the hot oil leaving space around each one. Sear undisturbed until the bottom is browned and the scallops are starting to turn opaque along the edges of the bottom, 2 to 4 minutes. *See important tips below.
  4. Carefully flip over the scallops onto the second side using a thin slotted spatula. Let cook on the second side until the scallops are just barely opaque, up the sides and the bottoms are browned, 1 to 3 minutes.
  5. Remove the scallops to a plate and cover with foil. Add the butter to the skillet, let melt and immediately add in the garlic, stirring constantly. Pour over the scallops and serve with parsley and lemon wedges.

Notes

Tip: Scallops have a “foot” which is a tough muscle that is easily pulled from them before you cook them. The foot is slightly opaque white, flat and about the size of a pea.

Tip: *Do not overcrowd the pan- it is better to do two batches. Sometimes if the skillet is not quite hot enough or if the heat is uneven, some of the scallops may weep and let off juice. If this happens, rotate the pan so that the heat is more evenly distributed across the skillet. Flip those that are sizzling in the hot oil and browned on the bottom, but let any that are simmering in their juices get up to a higher temp, another 30 seconds or so. Then flip them. Usually this will give them enough time to brown up nicely.

Tip: * If any scallop sticks, let it continue cooking for 1 minute or until they release from the pan.

  • Prep Time: 2 minutes
  • Cook Time: 8 minutes
  • Category: Main Course
  • Method: Stove Top
  • Cuisine: American

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 3 to 4 scallops
  • Calories: 214
  • Fat: 14 g
  • Carbohydrates: 6 g
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Protein: 17 g