Cooking Scallops Like A Pro

Even the most seasoned culinary academy students tend to get intimidated by the idea of cooking scallops. The simple little shellfish seem a lot more challenging and complicated than they actually are. Ideal for a quick meal that’s still sophisticated, here are some tips to getting your scallops prepared in a way that Gordon Ramsay himself would approve of:

Don’t buy wet scallops
You might be thinking, “well, all seafood is wet.” While that’s true, the scallops you should buy will probably be marketed as “dry scallops.” According to Serious Eats, this means that they aren’t treated with sodium tripolyphosphate. STP is safe to eat. However, it causes the scallops to absorb access moisture, meaning:

  1. If you’re buying your scallops by weight, you’re getting ripped off because that water will run right out once they start cooking.
  2. That water that runs out once the scallops get hot will flood the pan, making it difficult to properly sear them.

How do I know if they’re wet?
If the scallops are opaque or being sold in a container filled with whitish liquid, they’re wet. Dry scallops are translucent and soft to the touch. Get any excess moisture out of your scallops before cooking them by sprinkling them with salt and setting them on a paper towel for a few minutes.

Alton Brown on Serious Eats recommends finding scallops without chemicals so they're cheaper and you can properly sear and not steam them.

Time to cook
Scallops cook very quickly, so even though they may be the main attraction of your meal, they should actually be the last part that you prepare. Season your scallops before you begin cooking them. There’s no specific way to do this, but it’s advised not to go too wild with your seasonings to ensure the taste of the scallops themselves aren’t overpowered. Usually, a light dusting of salt, pepper and a mild herb is just enough.

You’ll want the pan to reach it’s peak temperature before you drop the scallops in so the seafood cooks evenly and without burning. While butter may be your go-to when you pan sear other foods, you won’t want to use regular ol’ stick butter for your scallops. Instead,try an oil, such as vegetable oil or olive oil, or even bacon grease. You just don’t want to use dairy, as the milk solids will burn up quickly, leaving little black specks on your scallops. If you’re feeling daring, consider using clarified butter. Achieve clarified butter by melting a stick of butter in a separate pan, and skimming the creamy liquid – the milk fat – off of the top.

Once your clarified butter, oil or bacon fat is hot in the pan, arrange your scallops in an organized way, so you can remember which scallops you set down first – you don’t want to overcook any of them on accident. Cook them for one minute in the pan, and gently turn them over with a set of tongs. Then cook them for about a minute longer. Serve them either on their own or atop a bed of linguine.

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