Seared scallops in lemon butter is a mouthwatering (and low carb) restaurant quality meal that you can have on the table in 20 minutes.
We’re swept away by the irresistible aroma and taste of our seared scallops in a bright and lemony sauce.
Seared scallops is the perfect example of a meal you don’t plan for. It happens on the spur of the moment when you spot beautiful sea scallops at your market or grocery store. Maybe they look extra fresh that day, or they’re on a manager’s special. The first thing you need to know: they cook in minutes. The second thing? You only need 2 or 3 ingredients to make a simple delicious pan sauce.
what you’ll need for pan seared scallops in lemon butter
Seared scallops are succulent and have a rich delicious flavor, they don’t need much! Today we’re using butter and lemon but there are so many other simple combinations you can try depending on what you love and what you’ve got on hand. Check out more simple scallop sauce combinations at the end of the post.*
- dry sea scallops
- see below for an explanation of this type of scallop. They can be pricy, and you’ll want to cook them within a day of purchase. Keep them very cold.
- vegetable oil
- the oil is for initially searing the scallops over fairly high heat.
- salt and fresh cracked black pepper
- capers, optional
dry scallops vs wet scallops
When you shop for scallops there are two different types: wet scallops and dry scallops.
Wet scallops are scallops that have been treated with a solution of water and a preservative. This solution causes the scallops to absorb water, which makes them heavier and look plumper. However, this can also dilute their flavor and make them soft and soggy.
Dry scallops, on the other hand, are scallops that have not been treated with any chemicals or solutions. They are simply shucked and packaged. They have a firmer texture and a more concentrated flavor than wet scallops. This recipe calls for dry scallops.
bay scallops vs sea scallops
Bay scallops are smaller than sea scallops, and are harvested in shallow coastal. waters They are typically sweeter and more tender than sea scallops.
Larger sea scallops are harvested in deeper ocean water. They have a firmer texture and a more robust, briny flavor than bay scallops. Today we’re using sea scallops.
wild caught vs farmed scallops
Wild-caught scallops are typically harvested from the ocean and have a more natural flavor and texture. They are generally more expensive than farmed scallops due to the higher cost of harvesting them.
On the other hand, farmed scallops are raised in a controlled environment and are less susceptible to environmental contaminants, such as pollutants or harmful algal blooms, than wild-caught scallops. They also have a more consistent quality and size, making them easier to cook and serve. Additionally, farmed scallops can be a more sustainable option, as they are often raised using environmentally responsible practices.
If you prioritize a natural, wild-caught taste and texture, then you might prefer wild-caught scallops. However, if you prioritize consistency, sustainability, and safety, then farmed scallops may be a better choice for you. I used wild caught scallops for this recipe.
how to make seared scallops, step by step
step 1. pat your sea scallops dry
It’s important to pat your scallops dry with a paper towel. This removes excess surface moisture which can interfere with a good sear. Note: If your scallops still have their ‘feet’ ~ small rectangular muscles on one side, just pinch them off. They’re tough and chewy so it’s best to remove them.
step 2. pre heat your pan on medium high heat
It’s important to get your pan nice and hot. Then add a little oil and get that nice and hot, too. You should hear a nice sizzle when you place that first scallop into the pan.
step 3. let the scallops sear, undisturbed
Let your scallops cook, undisturbed, for about 3-4 minutes on the first side to get that perfect golden brown sear. Then flip and cook for a minute or 2 more. (There’s no shame in doing a test scallop to be sure you’ve got the temp and timing right.)
step 4. make your pan sauce
Remove the scallops to a plate. This prevents them from overcooking when you make the pan sauce. Then pop them back into the pan to reheat before serving.
the myth-busting secret to perfect pan seared scallops
THE MYTH: You need to use a stainless steel or cast iron pan for the best sear. The logic is that they conduct and hold heat better non-stick pans.
For me, this was not the case. I tried searing the scallops in both stainless steel and cast iron and had trouble both times with the scallops cooking unevenly and sticking to the pan, no matter how long I left them. Many of them tore when I eventually tried to flip them, and they over cooked while I was waiting for them to release naturally.
I tried again in my good quality non-stick pan and the scallops seared like a dream. Just make sure you’ve got a newer, good quality chemical free nonstick pan that can withstand a higher heat.
non-stick pans that can take the heat
can you sear frozen scallops?
Yes, but thaw scallops completely before cooking them, either by placing them in the refrigerator overnight or running them under cold water until thawed. Once the scallops are thawed, they can be patted dry with a paper towel to remove any excess moisture before searing. Removing excess moisture is even more important when using thawed scallops.
what to serve with pan seared scallops
This easy meal is so elegant you really don’t need to add much to it.
Serve them as is, French style, as a first course or appetizer.
A classic way to serve seared scallops is over a bed of mashed potatoes.
For a low carb option serve over a salad or bed of greens. You could also use cauliflower rice.
* pan sauce variations for seared scallops
- Garlic + white wine ~ sauté minced garlic in the pan (after cooking the scallops) until fragrant, then add a splash of white wine and simmer until reduced. Stir in a tablespoon of butter and a pinch of salt, then spoon the sauce over the scallops.
- Balsamic + brown sugar ~ after cooking the scallops, add a touch of brown sugar and a splash of balsamic vinegar to the pan and simmer until thick and syrupy. Drizzle the glaze over the scallops and sprinkle with chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley or thyme.
- Herbs + butter ~ melt 1-2 tablespoons of butter in the pan after cooking the scallops, then stir in chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, parsley, or dill. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then spoon the sauce over the scallops.
- Beurre blanc ~ a classic French sauce made by whisking butter into a reduction of white wine, vinegar, shallots, and lemon juice until it emulsifies into a creamy sauce.
- Brown butter sauce ~ melt butter in the pan and cook until it turns a nutty brown color, then add a splash of lemon juice and a pinch of salt.
- Creamy mustard sauce ~ Sauté minced shallots and garlic in the pan, then stir in Dijon mustard and heavy cream. Simmer until the sauce thickens, then season with salt and pepper.
- Tomato basil sauce ~ cook diced tomatoes, garlic, and red pepper flakes in the pan until the tomatoes break down and form a sauce. Stir in chopped fresh basil and season with salt and pepper.
- Hollandaise sauce ~ make my quick 30 second Hollandaise sauce with an immersion blender and then drizzle over the hot scallops.
Seared Scallops with Lemon Butter
- Place the scallops on a layer of paper towels, and pat them dry with another layer of paper towels. Season lightly with kosher or sea salt.
- Preheat a skillet over medium high heat until hot, then add a light coating of olive oil to the pan. When the oil is shimmering arrange the scallops in the pan, and let cook, without disturbing, for 3-4 minutes until nice and golden brown on the bottom.
- Gently flip each scallop over and cook another minute or two. Remove to a plate. From the side they should look opaque with a translucent line in the middle. You don't want to over cook scallops or they can become rubbery.
- Wipe out the pan and add the lemon juice, butter, and capers. Bring to a boil and simmer for several minutes to reduce a bit. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add the scallops back into the pan. Baste a few times with the butter until the scallops are re-heated through.
- Serve the scallops topped with the lemon butter sauce.