Is there a preferred method for cooking sea scallops?
Sea scallops are one of our favorite types of seafood to cook (and eat!). But these mollusks are delicate and easily overcooked—and overcooked scallops are rubbery. They are best quickly seared to build a flavorful crust on the outside while the inside remains silky. Cooking scallops successfully starts at the fish counter. Avoid “wet” scallops, which are treated with chemicals to preserve them; they are typically bright white and are often sitting in a pool of cloudy liquid in the case. We much prefer “dry” scallops, which haven't been treated. Dry scallops often have a rosy tint, feel tacky, and taste much better.
Next, make sure to dry the scallops before searing them—the cooking time for searing scallops is so short that extra moisture can throw off the timing. Make sure your skillet (nonstick, traditional, and cast-iron all work well) and oil are thoroughly preheated before adding the scallops. Since salt draws moisture out of foods over time, you don't want to salt scallops too far in advance: season them just before they go into the hot skillet. And finally, don't overcrowd the skillet; giving each scallop a little room ensures that it will sear, not steam. We like to position the scallops in a ring around the skillet's circumference, starting at the handle so that we can easily remember which of them went into the skillet first.
The cooking goes quickly. You know the scallops are perfectly done when they're translucent in the middle (about 115 degrees) and opaque near the top and bottom, with deep golden crusts. You can baste the cooking scallops with melted butter to add flavor, if you like.
The bottom line: Buy “dry” scallops, and then dry them thoroughly. Preheat a pan to ripping hot, season the scallops at the last minute, don't overcrowd them in the pan, and cook them for just a minute or so per side.