How to Cook Scallops
With a little know-how, you can cook restaurant-quality scallops at home. We'll show you three different ways to fix them, including how to cook scallops in a skillet and on the grill. Of course we'll share some easy scallop recipes you can try, too. Given how fast the seafood cooks and the amazing flavor they add, you'll wonder why you haven't been cooking scallops on a regular basis all your life.
Don't limit scallops to your favorite seafood restaurant. Scallops are a quick and versatile ingredient for home cooking as well. There are two basic types of scallops: the larger sea scallops (about 1-1/2 inches in diameter) and the smaller bay scallops (1/2 inch), which are sweeter. We will focus on cooking the more common sea scallops here.
There are several options for cooking scallops, but almost all have the following elements in common.
- Quick-cooking technique: Scallops are a lean protein source and should be cooked quickly under high heat to prevent them from drying out. Also, a high-heat cooking method results in a pleasant browning on the outside and a delicious caramelized flavor.
- Added fat: Because scallops are so lean, they require some fat such as oil or butter during cooking.
- Seasoning: Scallops are mild and need a little flavor boost. It can be as simple as a squeeze of lemon, a dry rub, or a complex Asian sauce.
Scallop Cooking Basics
Regardless of the cooking method you choose, follow a few general tips when working with scallops:
- Thaw scallops, if frozen. You can thaw them several hours or overnight in the refrigerator. Do not thaw scallops at room temperature.
- Rinse scallops and pat them dry with paper towels before cooking. If scallops have too much moisture on the outside, they won't brown properly.
- Cut large scallops in half to ensure even cooking (as shown above).
- Minutes count! Cook scallops just until they are opaque; otherwise they can get tough quickly. If you're not using a recipe and need to know how long to cook scallops, use the opaque cue. If scallops are opaque they are done.
How to Cook Scallops on the Stove
When it comes to cooking scallops, nothing is faster or easier than pan-searing them on the stovetop. Don't let the word "sear" scare you; it simply means to brown a food using high heat. Here's how:
- Choose a heavy, quality skillet for the job. Cast iron and stainless steel work well because they provide even heating and can withstand high temperatures. Don't crowd the scallops in the pan or they will steam instead of cook. Cook them in batches, if necessary.
- For one pound of scallops, heat about 2 tablespoons combination butter and oil (1 Tbsp. of each is great) in the pan over medium-high heat.
- If you want a thin crust on the outside of the scallops, coat them in flour. For every pound of scallops, use 2 to 3 tablespoons flour. Place the flour in a resealable plastic bag; add the scallops and toss to coat. You can also mix the flour with 1 to 2 teaspoons seasoning, such as blackened steak seasoning or Cajun seasoning.
- Cook scallops in the hot skillet 3-6 minutes or until browned and opaque, turning once.
- Cooking scallops tip: This timing is a good gauge on how long to cook scallops, but their opaqueness is the best test to know when scallops are done.
Tip: Another seasoning option is to use a gourmet prepared sauce. Scallops are a great choice to pair with a delicious sauce from a specialty food market. Stir in 1/4 to 1/2 cup sauce into your skillet at the end of cooking for a simple flavor boost.
Related: Seared Scallops with Beurre Blanc
How to Broil Scallops in the Oven
Another speedy way to cook scallops is broiling. Unlike searing, you don't have to monitor your scallops quite as closely while they broil. Just follow these instructions:
- Preheat the broiler. Place scallops on a greased, unheated rack of a broiler pan. If you like, you can thread three or four scallops onto skewers, leaving 1/4-inch spaces between pieces.
- Season as desired and brush with a melted butter-oil combination (2-3 Tbsp. total)
- Broil about 4 inches from the heat for 6 to 10 minutes or until scallops are opaque, turning and brushing with additional butter-oil mixture halfway through broiling. Serve with tartar sauce, sweet-and-sour sauce, or another favorite prepared sauce.
How to Grill Scallops
Many home cooks will declare grilling as the best way to cook scallops. Probably because they use a flavorful marinade to get the biggest flavor from scallops. The most common way to grill sea scallops is to thread them onto skewers (with veggies and fruits if you want to make a meal of it). Good produce options to pair with grilled scallop kabobs include sweet pepper pieces, onion wedges, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, and pineapple chunks. Many people like to combine shrimp and scallops on a skewer as well.
- To prepare scallops for grilling, first season or marinate as desired.
- Thread scallops and other ingredients, if using, onto skewers. (Note: If you're using wooden skewers, soak them in a shallow dish in enough water to cover for 1 hour before threading on food.) Grill kabobs on a well-greased grill rack directly over medium heat 5 to 8 minutes or until scallops turn opaque, turning once halfway through grilling and brushing with reserved marinade, if using.
- For indirect grilling: Season and skewer the same way and grill over medium indirect heat 11 to 14 minutes.
How to Buy and Store Scallops
If you're unsure where to buy scallops, search out fresh scallops at a reputable fish market or the fish counter at your grocery store. There are two basic types of scallops: the larger sea scallops (about 1-1/2 inches in diameter) and the smaller bay scallops (1/2 inch), which are sweeter. When buying scallops look (and smell) for:
- Fresh ocean scent (not sour or sulfurlike)
- Scallops that are firm and moist and retain their shape when touched
Frozen scallops are convenient and rival fresh in terms of taste and texture. Learning how to cook frozen scallops is as simple as letting them thaw in the fridge for a few hours before cooking.
To store fresh scallops: Refrigerate, covered in the clear juices up to 2 days or freeze up to 3 months.