Cooking the perfect scallop can be tricky for sure. High heat? Low heat? How long do we cook them to make them perfectly cooked scallops? No more problems after today, we have you covered. Also the chef tips to golden brown scallops.
Scallops are one of my personal favorite mollusks from the ocean. Scallops can be prepared and eaten in a multitude of different ways using many techniques from cooked to raw Crudo, making them very versatile. I still remember the day in culinary school we cooked scallops like it was yesterday.
On scallops day, Chef gave us an overview of what to do and what to consider when cooking scallops. Our Chef then cooked a few scallops during a demonstration. He used high heat and clarified butter and cooked them very quickly. The result was less than what I was expecting.
Allow me to explain my journey in learning how to cook perfect scallops. But first a few cool facts about scallops. 🙂
• n. 1. an edible bivalve mollusk (family Pectinidae) with a ribbed fan-shaped shell. Scallops swim by rapidly opening and closing the shell valves.
∎ a small pan or dish shaped like a scallop shell and used for baking or serving food.2. (usu. scallops) each of a series of convexly rounded projections forming an ornamental edging cut in material or worked in lace or knitting.3. another term for escalope.
• v. (-loped, -lop·ing ) 1. (scalloped) ornament (an edge or material) with scallops: a scalloped neckline.2. (scalloping) gather or dredge for scallops.3. bake with milk or a sauce: (scalloped) scalloped potatoes.DERIVATIVES:scal·lop·er n
Scallops are one of the most popular seafood items due to their unique appealing texture and succulent flavors.
U.S. fishermen catch between 50 and 60 million pounds of scallops annually, and it is one of the nation’s most valuable fisheries.
Culinary School Experience
Back to the lesson, Chef finished up the scallops cooking demonstration and had us eat some to test the doneness and texture. I'd like to point out my Le Cordon Bleu Chefs were all great, yet this demonstration didn't sit well with me. I thought to myself there has to be a better way to cook scallops.
The Chef's scallops were cooked using high heat and quickly cooked, which resulted in a cooked scallop with a little bit of color/browning on the scallops. There isn't anything wrong with this technique and it is actually a pretty normal way of cooking scallops. I personally use this technique at times.
Back in school, I had a bigger picture in my head of what perfect scallops should be, all golden brown, like the ones you would see in magazines or on television. I had to get to the bottom of this, so I set out down the hall to talk with some of my other Chef instructors. I headed straight to my favorite Chef, Chef Porter. I explained my issue and she told me a few tips I'd like to share with you today.
Here is a photo from that very day at school from my experiment that followed. Scallops have a good amount of natural sugars in them. This is the key to perfect scallops. The cooking process needs medium to medium-high heat to allow the sugars in the scallops to caramelize.
In the photo below, I took the experiment to an extreme level. I used super low heat. Given this isn't a normal way one would cook scallops I had to try. The results were pretty cool, take a look below.
Low and slow heat gave the impression of a perfect scallop. Yet the texture wasn't what I was looking for, the scallop had a rough texture on top. I'll admit I was a little bit proud of myself after cooking this scallop due to the fact I didn't get the golden brown answer I was looking for from my Chefs.
Yes, when shopping you'll likely to encounter 2 types. 1) Colossal Sea Scallops & 2) Bay Scallops (small in size)
This can affect the golden browning of your scallops. You will find "Dry" packed scallops and "Wet" packed.
- Dry packed often costs more, but you will not be paying for extra water in your scallops.
-Wet scallops do not want to brown in the pan due to a steaming effect.
The photo below is from a few years ago when I had company over for dinner. The scallops were cooked with the method I use every time now.
- Use a non-stick or cast-iron skillet
- Medium-high heat is key
- Add oil to the pan, I like using peanut oil or clarified butter, since they both have a high smoke point and is resistant to burning
- Add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan (Think of shallow frying)
- Use paper towels to dry the scallops as best as you can. before cooking. Wet scallops equal NO color/or browning (They will only steam)
- Scallops cook in around 5 minutes depending on size, remember the scallops will continue cooking after you remove them from the heat (Serve them quickly)
- In the last 60-to-90 seconds add/mount with butter, this really browns the scallops for a great presentation ( Learn how to make clarified butter here)
Tip: The photo above still looks nice as an example of scallops that were not completely dry when they hit the pan. Remember to dry the scallops right before you add them to the pan. When they sit out waiting to be cooked they sweat a little releasing their natural waters.
I hope you enjoyed this article on cooking scallops. Don't ever be discouraged while learning, even some restaurant chefs cannot cook a scallop and make it look nice on the plate. You Got This!
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How To Cook Scallops Perfectly
- 12 scallops Large Sea Scallops (colossal scallops) dry-packed scallops brown better than wet packed
- 4 tbsp Clarified Butter Has higher smoker point, reduces chance of burning
- 4 tbsp Olive Oil Mixing butter and olive helps improve the taste and smoke point level
- 1 ½ tsp Sea Salt season to taste
Quick Marinate Recipe: Optional:
- ¼ tsp Nutmeg I love using fresh for scallops
- 2 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
- 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
- ¼ Tbsp Creole Seasoning
Cleaning & Prep of Scallops
- On the sides of scallops, they have a small abductor muscle the runs up the side of the scallop. It peels off very easily. Almost too easy to the point you could rip the scallop, so be careful. The abductor's muscle is much chewier than the scallop.
- The recipe is for 4 people, each person getting 3 large scallops plated. Add more if you like. Chef Tip: The reason for 3 each is first, cost control, and second professional plating is done using odds number plating. The brain looks for even numbers, so when serving odd numbers the brain interprets the plating as nicer, more visually appealing.
The Marinade Process
- You will want to do this about 10 minutes before cooking. The scallops only need a short time in the marinade. Do not marinade the scallop longer than 10 minutes or risk cooking them from the apple cider vinegar. Plus, it will change the texture destroying the scallops.
- After 10 minutes in the marinade, you need to move them over to a dry paper towel and allow the scallops to dry. You may need to change the paper towel a few times to get them very dry.
- Scallop Browning TIP: Wet scallops will never become golden brown. The moisture on the scallop will result in steamed scallops.
Cooking The Scallops
- Using a large skillet (Do not crowd the pan with scallops or risk steaming them, which means no golden brown scallops). I like cast iron due to the even distribution of heat. Really helps with the browning.Over medium-high heat. Do not use high heat or risk burning the scallops and oil.Once the pan is hot add in olive oil or peanut oil. Personal choice.Allow the oil to come to temperatureAdd the Dry Scallops to the pan and cook for 3 minutes. Afterward, add in a few large dabs of butter. Using a large spoon, spoon the melted butter over the tops of the scallops. This will set in a very nice brown color.
- I like to turn off the heat at this point and flip/turn the scallops and cook on the other side. The scallops will not take as long on side 2 to cook. About half the time. You can always poke the scallops with your finger to check doneness.
How To Tell The Scallops Are Cooked?
- Cooked scallops are still soft in texture. The firmness will equal twice that of the raw uncooked scallop. The cook time on scallops is right about 4 to 5 minutes.
- The scallops need to be very dry to turn golden brown
- Yes, you can use bay scallops, which are very small scallops that cook in about 60-70 seconds
- Can you eat the abductor muscle? Yes, the only difference is the texture. They taste just like a scallop.
- Can you eat scallops raw? Yes, the style of recipe is called Crudo. Thinly sliced scallop plated in a sauce like Ponzu or vinaigrette.
- Can you reheat cooked scallops? Yes, it is safe to do so, but the texture will suffer. If you must reheat scallops do so by steaming them in warm+ water.
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