100 Techniques

Technique #19: Sear Scallops for Tender, Golden Results

Blaze, batch, and butter for the best scallops.

Published Oct. 13, 2023.

This is Technique #19 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master.

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How often have you enjoyed a fabulous seared scallop dish in a restaurant—one that boasts scallops with golden-brown crusts and tender, barely translucent centers—and wondered how to replicate it at home?

When you eagerly try it, you find that your expensive shellfish ends up steaming in a pool of its own liquid; by the time that excess liquid evaporates and a crust finally forms, the scallops have turned hopelessly overcooked and rubbery.

Our technique achieves restaurant-caliber results.

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Success Starts at the Supermarket

Many scallops are sold “wet,” which means they have been treated with STPP, or sodium tripolyphosphate, a chemical that increases shelf life and retains moisture. This contributes not only off flavors, but also a good portion of the excess moisture that inhibits browning. For those reasons, we recommend purchasing, if possible, “dry” scallops, which have not been treated.

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Steps to Develop a Golden Crust

The major obstacle to getting a great crust on scallops at home is that home stovetops don’t get nearly as hot as professional ranges. Regardless, there are other steps you can take to achieve beautifully browned scallops.

  • Be sure to wait to add the shellfish to the skillet until the oil begins to smoke, which is a clear indication of high heat.
  • Cook in batches, so as not to crowd the pan and thus lower its temperature. (Resist the urge to move the scallops in the pan—leave them alone until it’s time to flip them!) And always use a nonstick skillet, which ensures your carefully cultivated golden crust will stick to the shellfish instead of the pan.

Butter Baste for the Best Taste

Another simple, common restaurant technique that can boost your success when searing scallops is butter basting. Adding butter to the skillet after searing the first side and spooning it over the scallops to coat both sides ensures that the milk solids in the butter have just enough time to work additional browning magic, but not enough time to burn. It’s a final touch that helps the scallops cook evenly, and it adds a luxurious, restaurant-quality flavor.

Watch Joe Gitter walk you through the steps to successfully cooking scallops at home.

Step by Step: How to Sear Scallops

Here's are the key steps to searing scallops with perfectly golden brown exteriors and juicy centers.

Step 1: Prep Scallops

Remove crescent-shaped tendon from each scallop.

Step 2: Dry Thoroughly

Place scallops on rimmed baking sheet lined with clean dish towel. Place second towel on top and press gently to blot liquid. Let sit for 10 minutes.

Step 3: Cook in Batches

Cook scallops, in batches if necessary, in single layer without moving them in preheated nonstick skillet until well browned.

Step 4: Baste with Butter

Add butter and flip scallops; cook, tilting pan and basting with butter, until centers are opaque, removing them as they finish cooking.

Step 5: Tent Finished Batches with Foil

Tent with aluminum foil on serving plate while finishing with remaining scallops.

Recipes That Use This Technique

Use your newfound scallop-searing knowledge with any of these recipes.


Pan-Seared Scallops

Juicy, crisp-crusted pan-seared scallops means overcoming two obstacles: chemically treated scallops and weak stovetops.
Get the Recipe

Pan-Seared Scallops with Sugar Snap Pea Slaw

For a fresh take on vegetable slaw, we thinly slice snap peas for a sweet and crunchy accompaniment to caramelized scallops.
Get the Recipe

Miso Butter–Basted Scallops with Bok Choy and Chile

Miso butter is the key to boosting browning and flavor in this simple yet impressive scallop dish.
Get the Recipe

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