Perfectly pan-fried weathervane scallops, with their golden halos of seared goodness, are fancy enough for a special meal but accessible enough to make anytime the mood strikes you. In fact, pan-seared weathervane scallops are probably one of the easiest things to cook up in your home kitchen, with little margin for error as long as you know what not to do.
If you’re nervous about not getting it right, this step-by-step guide will completely demystify how to achieve expertly seared weathervane scallops at home.
Two Essential Kitchen Tools You Need
The two essential kitchen tools to make pan-seared scallops at home? The right fat and the right pan. You’ll need those to successfully pan-sear any variety of seafood from Alaska, but they’re practically the only things you’ll need to be able to pull off stellar scallops.
Use a cooking oil that can stand up to high temperatures; peanut, canola, and vegetable oils are good options. If you like buttery flavors with your scallops — who doesn’t — you can use ghee and clarified butter instead for pan-frying.
As for the pan, cast iron is ideal since it has a lot of mass, a quality that ensures that you can build up an intense, even source of heat. This will make the task of searing the scallops practically foolproof. If you don’t have cast iron though, choose the pan with the heaviest bottom.
And the Essential Prep
Basically, the only prep you need to do is to pat your weathervane scallops dry, removing any excess liquid from the surface with a tea towel or paper towels. Moisture on the surface of the scallops will inhibit searing and cause your scallops to steam instead. Steamed scallops are delicious, but that’s not what we’re going for here.
The only thing left to do before cooking the scallops is to season them with salt and pepper shortly before introducing them to the pan.
Heat up a pan over medium-high heat, adding just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan.
Once your cooking fat has begun to shimmer, hot enough that it’s practically smoking, arrange your scallops in the pan, leaving an inch or so of space around each to ensure that they can expel a bit of moisture without steaming one another. This way you’ll get the best sear possible without sabotaging your efforts. If you’re cooking an entire pack of scallops, you may need to fry them in batches in order to give them enough space.
Also, note that you should be using your ears to determine whether your pan is hot enough: The scallops should sizzle enthusiastically as soon as they touch the hot surface. If you don’t hear this sizzle upon contact, wait a few more minutes for the pan to heat up.
Leave the scallops undisturbed as they cook, allow the first side to sear until the scallops have developed a golden crust.
After about two minutes, peek at the seared side of one of the scallops to see if it’s had enough time to properly sear. This crust is the culmination of both texture and flavor in pan-fried scallops, so be patient here. Leave them be if they still look a bit pale, but if they’re ready to flip, start turning your scallops with either a spatula or tongs, starting with the ones that you first put into the pan.
Smaller scallops will only need 3 minutes to cook through, while larger ones can take about 4 minutes. That means if your scallops take 2 minutes to develop a serious sear on one side, give the second side whatever time you have remaining to cook, even if it won’t have enough time to pick up as much color as the first side.
Pan-Fried Scallop Ideas
You could always serve your pan-seared scallops as they are, with a couple of your favorite sides. But when you want to change things up, pair them with sauces! Getting a solid crust ensures that your scallops still maintain their crispy-tender texture beneath a layer of sauce, like this recipe for scallops with marsala cream sauce from the Cooking Channel.
In this recipe from Kim Sunee, just one side of the scallop is seared before they’re moved to the oven, where they’ll finish cooking under the broiler beneath breadcrumbs and a mushroom almond sherry sauce.
Lest we forget the glorious combo of brown butter and scallops, Ned Bell’s recipe for weathervane scallops cooks them in a “clarified” brown butter, serving them with a watercress and pomelo salad to cut through the richness.