Recipe courtesy of Amanda Freitag

Seared Scallops

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  • Level: Easy
  • Total: 10 min
  • Active: 10 min
  • Yield: makes 12 scallops (6 appetizer servings or 4 entree servings)
The first thing to know before making this recipe--which is barely even a recipe, more of a technique for a simple and elegant dish--is to take down your smoke alarm. Okay, maybe don’t do that, because it’s unsafe. But definitely open the windows and turn on a fan, because you need to have a screaming-hot pan to achieve beautifully sweet sea scallops with a perfectly caramelized sear. A pro kitchen is equipped with 30,000 BTUs of gas and indestructible stainless-steel pans, and we’re not afraid to use them. Gird your loins, turn up the heat, and you’ll have a chance of capturing scallop magic at home.



  1. Place a layer of paper towels on top of a large plate or baking sheet and gently lay the sea scallops on top to rid them of any excess moisture. With the scallops still on the paper towel, grab a large pinch of kosher salt and sprinkle it from a foot or more over the scallops. The height will help distribute the salt evenly.
  2. Use a pepper grinder to crack fresh black pepper in the same manner, getting every scallop.  
  3. Flip the scallops and season the other side. This is important!  
  4. Heat the oil in a large cast-iron skillet or heavy-bottomed stainless-steel saute pan over high heat. Do not use nonstick—you’ll never achieve the proper caramelization!  
  5. Wait.  
  6. Wait.  
  7. Watch as the pan begins to smoke. 
  8. Now, carefully, because the pan and oil are very hot, use tongs or your fingers to place each scallop individually in the pan, leaving room between them. Once the scallops are in the pan, do not move them or the pan or turn the heat down. You’re going to want to, because the pan will be hot and splattering and smoking, but resist! You’re getting your hard sear. Don’t interfere or the scallops will stick.  
  9. After 2 minutes, use a spatula or tongs to gently turn one of the scallops and assess how dark the sear is. If it’s dark brown and caramelized, it’s ready to be flipped and seared on the other side for at least 2 minutes more to achieve an identical sear.  
  10. When the scallops have been flipped and seared on both sides, they’re fully cooked and ready to eat. Remove them from the pan using tongs or a spatula. Add the butter to the pan and a squeeze of lemon juice and scrape up the bit on the pan to create a sauce. Serve the scallops hot and topped with the pan sauce and another squeeze of fresh lemon juice on top.

Cook’s Note

Prep: Remove the adductor muscle from each scallop. Cut the lemon. Make sure the adductor muscles are removed before you cook the scallops because they’re inedible and unpleasant to chew. Ask your fishmonger if you need help the first time. If the scallops are crowded in the pan, it will cool too quickly to sear them properly. If you think your pan isn’t wide enough to comfortably accommodate all the scallops, work in batches— or risk soggy scallops. Shopping for the best ingredients is almost as important as the cooking technique you use, and never is this more true than with sea scallops. Often at the fish market you’ll see sea scallops marked either “dry” or “wet.” Ask for the dry scallops if they’re available; you’ll never be able to attain the same hard sear on the wet scallops.