The first time I cooked a scallop I was hooked. The knowledge that they were good for you was important to me and that, along with their sweet taste, placed this item on my list of regular home cooked menu items. Scallops, after all, contain a lot of protein, Omega-3’s, Vitamin B12, tryptophan and a bunch of other good stuff so it’s easy to eat something that you know is good for you. In fact, in a single serving (~4 ounces or 113 grams) there is almost 16 grams of protein. Depending on your size and dietary needs this can be 1/3 to ½ of your daily protein requirement. Knowing this I am shocked that there is not more scallop eating going on. But, scallops can appear to be a kind of strange an exotic looking food that most people really wouldn’t know how to prepare once they got it home. We might as well be talking about sea urchin. The Friday Fish Fry, breaded pop corn shrimp, fried calamari and shrimp cocktail dominate and most people never get much closer to scallops then fried clam strips. It is hard to imagine actually bringing them home and actually preparing them when this is what you are exposed to. Oh, I almost forgot fish sticks.
To make this easy with predictable results I always buy flash frozen scallops and thaw them at home just before cooking. Frozen scallops are quickly frozen very soon after being harvested at sea and prepared for packaging. Remember where we live. That’s not the ocean over there! Flash or quick frozen scallops will always be superior to a four or five day old “fresh” scallop. You still have to do a little investigating though. If the scallops in the package have frozen together in a large clump, that could be a sign that they may have thawed and refrozen. You should be able to move them around in the package and feel individual scallops. When you open the package they should smell a fresh, sweet, ocean like smell. Sea food should never smell fishy. They should also be all white with no brown spots. There are different ways to thaw them but I place them in a bowl and run cold water over them until they thaw. I then dry them off with paper towels and let them air dry until they are completely dry. They must be completely dry or they will not sear correctly.
There are many different types of scallops but I have found the medium sized Patagonia scallop from Argentina to be my absolute favorite. It is a puck shaped smaller scallop so it is easy to quickly pan sear and incorporate into pasta dishes but not too small like the tiny bay scallop. In the picture above they are combined into a creamy tomato penne.
Scallops taste best when they are cooked to exactly the right level of doneness. In other words not undercooked and certainly not overcooked. I personally think they are at their absolute best with some brown crunchy buttery sear on each side. There are some people that will tell you that you negate some of the goodness from eating scallops when you pan sear them in butter or oil and that you should bake or (gulp) broil them. Well, these babies are heading for the frying pan. I have used cast iron, stainless and non-stick. A good quality non-stick browns nicely with butter and results are fantastic with this recipe.
Preheat the frying pan over medium heat until a drop of water skips across the pan. Put a tablespoon of unsalted butter in the pan and wait until the bubbling and frothing stops. This is the water boiling out of the butter. Unsalted butter allows you to control the saltiness of the finished scallop. Swirl the pan and toss in a teaspoon of minced garlic. Immediately dump your scallops in the pan. Separate the scallops so that they are not all bunched together.
Lightly salt and liberally pepper the scallops. You will begin to see steam pull off as the water is cooked out.
In about two minutes you can flip the scallops. They should be browned and seared on one side. Two more minutes and you are almost done. Add another tablespoon of butter just before serving to give them a little extra buttery flavor.
This technique is also my preferred method for full sized sea scallops but you have to give them a little more time on each side and use a little more butter. They should just turn opaque through to the center when done. It is OK to take a test scallop out of the pan to test for doneness.
Pan seared scallops are amazing on green salads or mixed with pasta. Any way you prepare them, once you get it right, you will be hooked on this sea food.