5 Tips To Cooking Perfect Scallops

Jan 9, 2019 | Cooking Tips, Fish and Seafood

With their sweet, rich flavour and soft, pillow like texture, scallops are amazing. That is, if you don’t over cook them. If you do, they end up as tasteless little pieces of rubber that are about as enjoyable to eat as a bike tire.

Now, because I like you guys, I’m going share some tips on how to cook these little sea marshmallows to make them exceptionally delicious. These are tips that I have picked up cooking thousands, literally thousands, of these little s.o.b.’s.

Without further ado, here are my…

5 Tips To Cooking Perfect Scallops

Okay, I lied…we need to talk about buying scallops before we talk about cooking them. So let’s do that first.

Buying Scallops

There are two main types of scallops; bay scallops, and sea scallops. Bay scallops are the tiny little ones that you often find in chowder. Sea scallops are the big ones that we are going to focus on today.

Sea scallops are bought and sold as number ratings which would be represented as either two numbers with a forward slash between them like 20/30. Or, they will be sold as U10 or U15 or something like that.

These scallop numbers probably seem a little confusing right now. But don’t worry, once you know what they mean it makes buying the scallops you want really easy.


All 20/30 means, (and it doesn’t have to be those numbers it could be 10/20 or 30/40, etc.) is that there are 20 to 30 scallops in a pound. So, 20/30 scallops are fairly small. They aren’t as small as bay scallops, but they aren’t very big. So, 30/40 means there are 30 to 40 scallops in a pound. Get it?


“U” numbers when buying scallops are similar to the slash (/) numbers. The only real difference is that instead of giving of range of 20 to 30 or 30 to 40, the “U” number tell you the maximum amount of scallops that are going to be in a pound.

U10 scallops, means that there are 10 or under scallops in a pound. The “U” obviously standing for under. So, U10 scallops are bigger than U15 scallops or 20/30 scallops. I guess the easiest way to look at it is, the bigger the numbers the smaller the scallops.

This is number system is also how shrimp are sold.

Alright, now that we have gone on this side quest to talk about how to buy scallops, let’s get to cooking them.

Scallop Tip 1

This may see pretty obvious to a lot of you, but to some it might be new information.

Scallops have joiner muscles that attach the scallop to the shell. For whatever reason, they are always left on the scallops. Take them off before cooking. They are very chewy and not enjoyable to eat at all.

You can see in the picture below how the person who cooked these scallops left it on. Tisk Tisk.

Scallop Joiner

Scallop Tip 2

The key to delicious scallops is getting that nice sear on the surface. That sear is a type of caramelization which enhances the natural sweetness of the scallop.

As you may remember from the steak post dry surfaces sear better than wet surfaces. So, dry the surface of the scallops well with a paper towel before searing.

I should say to that scallops are like little sponges. If they are left in water they will absorb it and hold it until they are cooked. If you buy frozen scallops, defrost them on a rack or in a colander so the excess liquid drains off.

Scallop Tip 3

As we now know, the key to a delicious scallop is the sear, and dry surfaces are important to getting that nice sear. The key however, to that beautiful sear is a very hot pan.

When cooking scallops a very hot pan is necessary. You want the pan to be pretty much smoking before the scallops go in.

If your pan isn’t hot enough when the scallops go in a few things are going to happen.

First of all any liquid coming out of the scallops isn’t going to evaporate. It is going to pool in the pan, cool it down further and then you are going to end up with boiled scallops, which nobody wants.

The second thing that is going to happen if your pan isn’t hot enough is that you aren’t going to get that oh-so important sear. Which is an important contrasting flavour to the scallops.

So, make sure your pan is very, very hot before you put your scallops in it.

Also, make sure you don’t crowed the pan. Too many scallops will cool the pan down as well and then you will have the same problem as you would if you didn’t heat your pan up enough. Only cover a maximum of 75% of the surface of the pan with scallops.

Scallop Tip 4

Okay, you have your U10 scallops. The surface of them is dry, you seasoned them with a little salt and pepper, and your pan is nice and hot. You add a touch of oil to the pan…just a touch, and then you dump the scallops in, stir them around and delicious! WRONG!!

It’s really important that you gently place the scallops in the pan, flat-side down. This is how you get that nice sear.

Once the scallops are in the pan, don’t touch them! This is really important. If your fiddling with them and tossing them around they aren’t going to be able to sear.

So, you put your scallops in the hot pan one at a time. You haven’t covered more than 75% of the surface of the pan, so it is still hot. Now what? Now you wait.

Watch the scallops. What you will notice is that around the base of the scallops will start to go brown. You want this to become a deep, rich brown colour. Once that happens, use a set of tongs or a spoon and flip the scallops one at a time starting with the first scallop that went in the pan.

This initial sear on the first side should take 2-3 minutes, no more. Once the scallops are flipped over you are only going to cook them for another 2-3 minutes.

You know the scallops are done when they have a nice deep brown sear on both ends and they are firm but not rubbery when gently squeezed. Again, this should only take 4-6 minutes depending on the size of the scallops.

Once they are cooked, remove them from the pan in the order they went in, and pat them dry on a paper towel.

Perfectly cooked scallops should be seared on both sides and warm in the middle but ever so slightly translucent in the very center. That is a perfect scallop.

Scallop Tip 5

Scallops are sweet and rich. Because of this, pairing them with something that will cut through that is always a good idea. That is one of the reasons bacon and scallops go so well together. The saltiness of the bacon, balances the sweetness of the scallops.

Two classic combinations that go really well with scallops are pea and prosciutto, and corn and bacon.

Also, pairing scallops with anything sweet and acidic works very well. Things like balsamic reduction or aged balsamic vinegar. Or equal parts vinegar and sugar cooked together until thick and drizzled over the scallops is delicious too.


Now that you know how to cook a scallop like a pro, experiment with different pairings. Come up with your own recipes or stick with the classics like garlic butter or bacon wrapped.

Either way, just enjoy them. They are delicious little ocean treats that we are fortunate enough to have in abundance. And now…I’m craving them.


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