Cooking Scallops

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2011 • all rights reserved

One simple rule for mouth-wateringly tender scallops.

One simple rule for mouth-wateringly tender scallops.

About six months after we began cruising, a local fisherman offered us scallops — that pile in the photo.  Now, coming from the midwest, I’d never even had scallops before, much less cooked them.  But I knew they were considered a delicacy.

And so we bought the scallops — or rather, we traded some flashlight batteries and a couple of beers for them.  And I quickly pulled out a seafood cookbook, found a recipe and carefully followed the directions.  I can only describe the result as white hockey pucks.  Rubbery is an inadequate term for what we tried to eat that night.  Dave and I decided that we just didn’t get the appeal of scallops.

One simple rule for mouth-wateringly tender scallops.A year later, our friends Robin (pictured) and Martin invited us aboard their boat, The Cat’s Meow, for dinner . . . and it turned out that scallops were on the menu.  Dave and I exchanged a glance, but it seemed rather impolite to jump overboard to avoid the scallops, so we resolved to eat at least a few.

My first bite into Robin’s scallops told me that I’d been wrong to think I didn’t like them.  The scallops she served simply melted in my mouth.  And so I asked how she prepared them.  She had to have some secret!  Since my disaster, I’d seen another recipe calling for pounding scallops to tenderize them.  Was that what she’d done?

“No,” Robin told me, “the whole secret is to just barely introduce the scallops to warmth.”

Robin went on to explain that basically you don’t want to think of it as “cooking” a scallop, as they get tough very easily (yeah, I knew that!).

Robin’s technique — and now mine — is to cook the other ingredients in the dish (say pasta and a butter sauce with garlic, green onions and sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil), then toss the scallops into the pan, turn the heat off, put the cover on and wait 2 to 3 minutes until the scallops were just opaque.

I’ve used this technique numerous times since then, and had great results.

If you use frozen scallops, they need to be thawed first.  The best way to thaw them is to put them in a sealable plastic container with cool water and put it all in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or more until they’re thawed (larger ones will take longer to thaw than small scallops).  Drain the water and pat them dry before using them.

And what made me write about this today?  I have some scallops in the freezer and was looking for a new recipe for dinner.  And the first three recipes I looked at told me to (1) broil the scallops for 15 minutes a side, (2) saute them until “a deep golden brown” and (3) grill them over a hot fire for 5 minutes a side.  No, thanks — I’ve had hockey pucks before!

I have no idea why otherwise good cookbooks give this information, but I suggest you ignore directions like those and “just barely introduce the scallops to heat.”  You’ll be glad you did!

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  1. Paul Schroder says:

    My wife is a lover of scallops and I am the cook in the family so it was my job to fond out how to cook scallops the proper way. Each time we went to a restaurant that serves scallops, Lynn will order them and if she really likes them, I am certain to send our compliments to the chef and ask if he/she would share how I could duplicate them at home. One comment was always common and that was to have large scallops (1″-2″ diameter) dusted with sugar on each side and pan fried in butter/olive mix with or without garlic for two minutes or less on each side. It is the sugar that browns quickly and beautifully that lends a little crust without overcooking and making them tough. The centers barely are opaque and they are pure heaven!

    • Carolyn Shearlock says:

      Sounds good — basically another way to do it so they aren’t overcooked. Thanks, Paul!

      • Carol Ann Getter says:

        Drying the scallops before introducing them to heat is Very important; otherwise they steam, rather than brown- and please brown only the tops, turn them upside down to finish, but don’t expect the bottom to brown as much. Scallops have a ‘right side’ to present for a pretty dish. Five minutes total on heat: 3 minutes on ‘Top’, and 2 minutes flipped over; less for Bay Scallops. Don’t try to turn them until the time has elapsed, otherwise they will tear. And don’t forget to take any muscle off- it’s edible, but gets tough & chewy. Fair winds

  2. Haha..thats funny, I always thought I hated scallops to, untill my hubby who is a fabulous cook made them for me..and showed me how I was overcooking I can’t get enough of em’!!..

  3. Mary Maskal on Facebook says:

    It always amazes me to see recipes for scallops that tell you to cook them to the hockey puck stage! I’ve also found soaking them in milk for about 30 minutes, especially buttermilk, helps keep them tender and delicious.

  4. The most memorable Scallop I ever had was fresh from the Ocean floor Scuba diving, raw.

  5. Amber Amodei on Facebook says:

    When I make scallops, my favorite method is to broil them in butter with some fresh pressed garlic. Only takes about 6 minutes. Super yummy!

  6. Jennifer Dean Neumann on Facebook says:

    I love them pan seared! Glad you found a good way to cook them.

  7. Great tip!

  8. You can also sear them quickly in butter & bit of oil in v hot pan till golden on each side. Sprinkle with a bit of fleur de sel and serve on bed of greens. Heaven!

  9. I liked the way you cooked the scallops we had at Christmas time!!!!!!!!!!!! They were very good!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Janet Brigham on Facebook says:

    Pan seared in olive oil, and butter.. Oil needs to be hot! Add a touch of garlic.

  11. Thank you, Carolyn! I am an avid scallop lover and I’ve been trying to figure this out for years.

  12. You can get a good sear on one side. Just make sure the pan and oil are hot enough and thats it. It helps if the scallops are still cool when you start to cook them like this. That’s all the cooking you do just sear one side. A lot of people like them that way. Then serve them seared side up they’re very pretty.

  13. I made a disaster of scallops before learning my hint. Scallops should be room temperature and patted dry. Heat your skillet with a high smoke point fat like clarified butter. (I’ve also used duck fat and coconut oil). When pan is very hot place the scallops. Cook for 2 minutes or so, flip and cook other side.
    Don’t “sauté” the way you would other foods, the more they move, the tougher they get.

  14. D and Don says:

    I love scallops and shy away from making them at home. Thanks for all the great tips. looking forward to trying it out.

    D & Don

  15. I learned to cook scallops on the grill. For large ocean scallops wrap a half slice of bacon around the outside and stick toothpick thru it to hold bacon on cover your grill with foil or us a grill sheet place scallop on grill cook until the bacon becomes crispy turning over occasionally when crispy cover Bacon wrapped scallop with sweet baby rays BBQ sauce and heat til warm! Absolutely delicious!

  16. Cooking scallops can be a challenge, the authors technique for the dish that was used in the article is good. Cooking scallops is not a big deal. First, select the right. Scallops. Specifically let’s discuss Sea Scallops, not Bay Scallops. Most grocery stores sell Scallops that have sodium nitrites and water added. Not a good choice for many reasons. The nitrite water added Scallops will shrink, and will not caramelize, therfore sautéed or broiled is pretty much useless cooking methods, in a stewed type dish as mentioned in the article will work, they will not have a good taste. Choose Dry Pack Scallops, usually found in higher end grocery stores such as Whole Foods or Wegmans. Dry Pack can also be found online or from Seafood purveyors. You can also find them IQF in many grocery stores. To sauté they need to be dry. Using a cast iron skillet will provide the best results. Heat the skillet well, add a high heat oil such as Grapeseed oil. Season, dry, and place in the very hot skillet. After about one minute, turn off the heat and add whole unsalted butter. Turn the Scallops and baste them by tilting the pan and using a spoon, pour the butter over each scallop as it browns but not burnt. When the Scallops are just cooked, remove and place on a rack or towel t ok remove excess cooking fat…. serve immediately with the rest of your dish. If all you desire is a steamed or poached scallop, using a dry pack or fresh shucked scallop will still provide the best taste and texture. Live Dayboat or Diver Scallops are very expensive vs Dry Packed which is still a great product, but the water, nitrite added Scallops are horrible in my professional opinion and should not even be sold. Bay Scallops are sold in similar fashion, but I have rarely used them, if I do I buy fresh in the shell.

  17. I have made them like Shawn,s comment suggested. A HOT skillet and just a quick brown on each side

  18. Same holds true for shrimp. They should be underdone when taken out of the pan or grill.

  19. I love scallops and because You barely have to cook them, it is about the only thing I really know how to cook.

  20. We are from MI, too. Where are you from?

  21. I can sear scallops to perfection. The trick is to ensure they are dried of moisture with a paper towel. Yummy!!

  22. I have a secret for cooking scallops, too … The Captain cooks them. He, he.

  23. Don’t overcook them.

  24. We had a demonstration of how to cook scallops by Desmond the owner/chef of Auberge William Wakem in Gaspe Qc. Hot pan (he had copper) clarified butter and a drizzle of maple syrup…much like one of the comments about dusting with sugar to caramelize. A couple of minutes them turn using tongs, do not move them around any more than you can help and just enough time on second side so they star to feel firm when you gently press down.

  25. Sounds good – love scallops!

  26. We often use the The Boat Galley cookbook even at home.

  27. For Sandra Houston

  28. Thanks to Caroline, Dave and Paz. I, too, discovered hockey puck scallops, and couldn’t understand why the other cruisers raved about them.
    Fair winds, old friends, and ‘Be safe out there’.

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