Friday, May 21, 2010

Pan Seared Sea Scallops

My mom prefers a nice dinner at home to a crowded restaurant on Mother's Day.  The crowds, the limited menus, the stress, and the high prices are enough to keep anyone out of a restaurant on any holiday. 

For the past few years I've opted to cook for my mom at her home on Mother's Day.  I haven't always been a confident cook and there were years when my attempts were less than stellar (including one year when I had a disaster with a turkey meatloaf and my mom ordered fried chicken).  Over the years my cooking has improved and this year I decided to make pan seared scallops.  I was inspired to make this dish after enjoying sea scallops at my anniversary dinner with my husband back in March. 

Sea scallops aren't cheap, but they are much more impressive on a plate than their tinier cousins, bay scallops.  I picked up a 2.5 pound bag of sea scallops at Costco for $23.  Our Costco sells fresh seafood every weekend and I've found they have the best prices on most items.  If you're buying scallops, I'd budget 1/2 pound for each person.  Also, they need to be very fresh, so make sure you purchase them the same day you cook them.

I did some research on recipes and finally decided to adapt this recipe from use real butter.

I was nervous, but it went well.  The only downside was that I was cooking for four and the scallops cooled off before I could serve them.  I think this meal is best served hot from the pan as a meal for two, or you could cover the scallops with foil to keep them warm prior to serving. 

I started by seasoning my scallops with kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper.  I dropped the scallops into a heated pan with some olive oil.  Use a stainless steel pan, if possible.  You won't get that delicious brown crust with Teflon coating.

The scallops don't need to cook more than 2-3 minutes on the first side.  You'll know they are ready when it's easy for you to flip them over with tongs.  You don't want to rip that delicious flesh apart, but you don't want them to turn rubbery...

I'll admit that my first batch didn't brown as much as I would have liked, but I made them again the following weekend (smaller batch) and they were perfect.

I cooked them about 1-2 minutes on the second side and immediately removed them from the heat and onto a plate.  It's so easy to overcook scallops and they aren't delightful when they are rubbery.  I like mine soft and meaty and just past translucent in the middle.
After I sat the scallops off to the side, I worked on a quick pan sauce.  I melted butter in the pan, tossed in some minced garlic, and then deglazed the pan with sauvignon blanc...

I used a whisk to scrape all the tasty bits off the bottom of the pan and then let the sauce reduce for about three minutes.  Then I poured some of the sauce over the scallops, topped the whole thing with fresh chives, and brought the meal to the table...


I served the sea scallops with roasted asparagus and rice pilaf.  I made sure the rice was cooked and on standby and I roasted the asparagus in the oven while I cooked the scallops.  Total cooking time was less than 20 minutes.  This meal is more about skill than endurance.

It went over really well.  I felt like a restaurant chef and mom had a very special Mother's Day.  I think this would be a great menu for a date night or any other intimate occasion at home.

Here's the recipe (well, it's more of a method than a recipe...):

Pan Seared Sea Scallops
serves 2-3

1 pound fresh sea scallops (patted dry)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup dry white wine (I used sauvignon blanc.  Don't use anything you wouldn't drink.)
2 cloves garlic, minced 
salt and pepper
fresh chives or parsley for garnish

Season the scallops with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  Preheat the olive oil in a wide, stainless steel skillet to medium-high.

Carefully place the scallops in the hot skillet.  Do not crowd the pan.  Don't place them closer than 1" apart.  We're searing, not steaming.

Let the scallops cook for 2-3 minutes on the first side.  They are ready to flip when you can easily work them away from the pan.  You don't want to tear them to shreds when you flip them.

Cook the scallops for 1 minute on the second side.  Remove from heat immediately and place scallops on a plate.

Drop the butter into the hot pan.  Reduce heat to medium and melt butter.  Add garlic to the pan and saute for 30 seconds.  Deglaze the pan with the wine.  Use a whisk to scrape off bits at the bottom of the pan.  Cook sauce for 3 minutes, then pour over scallops, garnish with herbs, and serve immediately.


  1. What a lovely dinner for your mom!

    To answer your question about the piping tip I used on my cupcakes it's a 1A size from Wilton. It's just a larger open round tip. The #12 tip is round as well, but snaller.

  2. Very nice job, Keeley! I'm hoping one day my "Bebe" kids will cook for me. I'd appreciate less than stellar results if it meant they tried.

  3. @Monica - Thanks for the tip... literally!

    @Ingrid - It's the thought that counts. I love making special meals for my mom.


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