Alton Brown's Scallops Recipe is the cat's meow of seafood dinners. Pan-seared, this easy meal has just four other ingredients. Including the salt and pepper. To top it off, you can make these in under 10 minutes!
I'm going to show you the master's technique for making this high-end dinner for a fraction of what you'll pay in any restaurant. Spoiler: These will probably taste better too!
What are scallops?
A treasure from the sea, they are members of the bivalve mollusk, just like clams, mussels, and oysters. The beautiful fan-shaped shells that line our sandy beaches are often their former homes.
This Alton Brown recipe uses sea scallops. Those are big ones. The smaller bay variety are great for soups, pasta dishes and so much more.
This scallops recipe has just a few ingredients. Other than the main one, you probably already have everything else you need to make this meal.
How to sear scallops
Searing these will provide a light and sweet crust finish to this scallops recipe. It's a super simple technique but there are a few key steps you need to follow.
The most important things to remember are:
- Dry them before searing.
- Use a hot pan.
- Don't over-crowd the pan.
- Don't move them around while searing.
The first thing to do when getting ready to sear these is to pat them dry with a paper towel. This will remove excess moisture and is a critical step in attaining a good sear.
After blotting dry, season them with salt and pepper. I like to use sea salt or kosher salt because the crystals are larger and have a bigger impact on flavoring.
Use a frying pan and heat the butter and olive oil just until it begins to smoke. Place them in the hot fat, without crowding. Then sear them for 2-3 minutes on each side.
Use a set of kitchen tongs and flip each on and sear on the other side for the same amount of time.
Pro Cooking Tips:
- While they are searing, do not move them around or touch them until you flip them. Allow the searing process to form a crust.
- While the first side is searing in the olive oil and butter, gently tilt the pan and use a tablespoon to coat the tops of the uncooked sides with the hot fat. This will give a sweet, pre-sear coat to each one.
How to buys scallops
Fresh is always best for this scallops recipe but most of us don't have access to them. Instead, we only have frozen ones available.
You will find these in the seafood cases of all the major grocery stores throughout the U.S. and they appear ever so plump and juicy, just begging to be taken home and enjoyed.
The very sad part of this scenario lies in the fact that many times their plumpness and juiciness lies not in their natural goodness, but rather in the taste-sucking evils of a preservative that goes by the name of sodium triphosphate (STP).
Besides being used as a preservative for much of the seafood we see in our grocer cases, it's also a primary component of detergents. Nice eh? Not.
Look for Dry-Packed
If you can't find fresh ones, you should buy some that are dry-packed, for this scallop recipe. Dry-packed means they are shucked, packed up, and shipped on ice without chemical additives.
These taste better than wet-packed alternatives, which are soaked in water and STP, meaning they become bloated with water and food additives, resulting in a dull flavor. You will also get a nicer sear with this scallops recipe if you use those that are dry-packed.
Scallops with too much moisture are also less successful in the pan, since excess water seeps out, preventing a flavorful crust from forming on the outside as it cooks.
The dry-packed variety may also have a stickier texture and a slightly more pronounced smell, which is nothing to worry about. They cost more but have a naturally sweeter taste.
Common questions about cooking scallops
Frozen scallops should be thawed in the refrigerator. Do not thaw them at room temperature and be sure to rinse them before cooking.
Milk will help tenderize these and get rid of their fishy taste and odor. It can also help extra particles of sand. To do this, rinse with cold water and then soak them for one hour and then blot dry as directed above.
When making this scallops recipe, you'll want to cook them on each side for 2-3 minutes on each side, depending on their size.
When making this scallops recipe, they will turn opaque and become firm when done. It's better to slightly under-cook these rather than over-cook them, which will make them tough and chewy.
Pro Cooking Tip: After soaking the scallops, pour the milk into a freezer bag (using care to leave any sand behind.) Freeze it and reserve for later use to make a seafood or clam chowder.
What to serve with scallops
Some easy sides dishes that go well with these can include:
Additions and variations
You can make a super-easy sauce to go over these using the following steps:
- Remove the them from the pan when they are done and set aside.
- Add some finely chopped shallots, garlic, capers, or parsley, and a small amount of white wine, and reduce it.
- Add a small amount of cream, being sure to stir continuously. If the sauce looks dry, add a little more cream or wine.
- Return the scallops to the pan and mix with the sauce, and then serve.
This simple sauce should only take about 3 minutes and can be poured over pasta or just mixed in with the scallops.
- After searing and removing the scallops and set aside. Add two tablespoons of butter to the pan, over medium-heat. Toss in a couple of chopped cloves of garlic and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.
- Stir the mixture for a couple of minutes, until the garlic is soft and smells like heaven.
- Return the scallops to the pan and mix with the warm sauce.
- Plate and garnish with copped parsley.
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Alton Brown Scallops Recipe
- 1 lb dry pack sea scallops approximately 16
- 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Remove the small side muscle, rinse with cold water and thoroughly pat dry.
- Add the butter and oil to a 12 to 14-inch saute pan on high heat. Salt and pepper the scallops. Once the fat begins to smoke, gently add the scallops, making sure they are not touching each other. Sear the scallops for 1 ½ minutes on each side. Each one should have a ¼-inch golden crust on both sides while still being translucent in the center. Serve immediately.
Top tips for this scallops recipe
- Drying them (with paper towels) is critical when searing.
- Use a hot pan to sear them.
- Don't crowd the pan.
- Don't move them around while searing.
- Warm serving plates in the oven to preserve and maintain the heat of any seafood entrée.