Easy 10-Minute Pan Seared Scallops in Butter
Whip up an elegant-yet-easy 10-minute dinner with these crisp butter scallops & your favorite sides! Although they might seem fancy, pan seared scallops in butter are actually one of the simplest proteins to cook. I’ll walk you through how to cook scallops in butter (or oil) to get a perfect sear every time. Plus easy side dish ideas to make a quick meal—like my sweet mango salsa & creamy coconut cauliflower rice!
Which Scallops to Buy for Pan Searing
The Short Answer: For the best pan seared scallops, I like to use medium-sized (10/20) ‘dry’ sea scallops—either fresh or frozen. But there are lots of different types of scallops to choose from out there, so it can help to know what you’re looking for. Some are easier to cook than others, some are easier to find than others, and I think some are tastier than others.
Different Types of Scallops
- Sea Scallops vs. Bay Scallops. I recommend buying sea scallops to pan sear at home rather than bay scallops, since bay scallops are generally much smaller & more difficult to cook.
- ‘Dry’ Scallops vs. ‘Wet’ Scallops. ‘Wet’ scallops are soaked in phosphates, which adds water weight so sellers can charge more, and these scallops tend to turn out soggier, tougher, and less flavorful when cooked. ‘Dry’ scallops are not soaked in this way, so they’re the best choice for crisper, more flavorful butter scallops.
- Different Sizes of Scallops. Sea scallops are sold based on the number of scallops you get per pound. When I made these butter seared scallops, I used medium-sized “10/20” sea scallops—which means the package has 10-20 sea scallops per pound, each scallop being around 2-inches in diameter. Smaller sea scallops (like 20/30 or 30/40) will cook a bit more quickly, and larger sea scallops (like U/15, U/12, U/10, or U/8) will need to cook a bit longer.
- Fresh Scallops vs. Frozen Scallops. You can use fresh scallops from the seafood counter, or frozen and thawed scallops—both will sear nicely. When using frozen scallops, just be sure to let them thaw in the fridge overnight, then pat them really dry before searing to remove excess moisture.
What is the best way to sear scallops on the stove?
Sea scallops are high in protein but very low in fat, so they can turn out pretty flavorless unless we use some fat during cooking. So in my experience, the best way to cook scallops on the stove is with a flavorful cooking fat like butter, clarified butter, or ghee. So many people fear the calories & fat in butter, but it’s actually almost the same as oil nutritionally—and butter makes everything so much tastier for me!
Butter has a medium-high smoke point (~350°F) that can work for a quick pan fry like this, or you can use clarified butter or ghee for a higher smoke point (450°F) option with a more intense, buttery flavor. I find butter seared scallops get particularly crisp & golden-brown around edges, and their flavor is so comforting! Of course, you can also pan fry scallops in oil instead—just be sure to choose one with a high smoke point.
Ingredients for Butter Seared Scallops
- Dry Sea Scallops. When you’re cooking pan seared scallops at home, I recommend buying fresh or frozen ‘dry’ sea scallops. (Not bay scallops, and not ‘wet’ scallops.) I prefer to use a medium-sized variety like 10/20 sea scallops, but you can also pan sear smaller or larger sea scallops—you’ll just need to adjust the cook time based on the size.
- Butter or Ghee (or Oil). I like to sear scallops in butter or ghee because they caramelize at the edges and that rich, buttery flavor infuses right into the scallops. You can also sear scallops in oil if you prefer—just be sure to use a high smoke point oil like refined avocado oil (400°F), canola or vegetable oil (400°F), or light/pure olive oil (465°F). If you’re planning on cooking some bacon with your scallops, you could also try pan seared scallops in bacon fat for a flavor twist!
- Seasonings. I like to keep the seasonings simple with pan seared scallops: black pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a sprinkle of parsley at the time of serving. No need to add salt if you’re searing scallops in salted butter or salted ghee—but if you use unsalted butter or oil for searing, add a pinch of salt as well.
How to Pan Sear Scallops on the Stove
Once you’ve got your sea scallops, butter (or oil), and a reliable pan, you can have perfect seared scallops ready in just 10 minutes! Just (1) pat the scallops dry, (2) get your pan nice and hot, (3) then sear for 1-2 minutes on each side. That’s it!
Which Pan to Use for Pan Searing
I like to use a 10-inch ceramic coated saute pan because my scallops don’t get stuck to it & it’s easy to clean. Or you can use a cast iron or stainless-steel pan if you have one. You can also use a nonstick pan if that’s what you have—although the nonstick coating can degrade at the high temperatures needed for pan searing.
1 Prepare Sea Scallops for Searing
First, pat your scallops dry between paper towels and let them rest at room temperature for 5-10 minutes. If scallops have too much moisture on the outside, they won’t sear or brown properly, so get them as dry as you can before searing. This is especially important if you’re using thawed frozen scallops instead of fresh, or ‘wet’ scallops instead of ‘dry’—both of which tend to retain more moisture.
2 Heat Pan & Butter Before Adding Scallops
Next, heat butter in your pan over medium-high to high heat for 1-2 minutes, until the butter is hot and almost smoking. (If you’re searing in oil, heat until the surface of the oil shimmers and it flows easily across the pan.) For the best sear, you want the scallops to sizzle immediately when they hit the pan, so you need to get the pan hot enough! You can test whether your pan is hot enough by adding a drop of water to see if it sizzles.
3 Sear Scallops in Butter (or Oil)
Once the pan is hot enough, add the scallops and season with black pepper. (If you’re using salted butter or salted ghee, salt is optional.) Let the scallops sear in butter for 1-2 minutes without moving them, until they brown on the bottoms. Then you can flip, season again, and sear for 1-2 minutes on the other side. If the pan seems too hot or too smoky at any point, turn down the heat slightly.
When your butter scallops have a golden-brown sear on both sides, they’re done! Pan seared scallops should be firm to the touch but still slightly soft—sort of like well-set Jell-O. Then you can remove the pan from the heat and finish your seared scallops with a squeeze of lemon juice and some lemon zest.
What to Serve with Pan Seared Scallops
I like to serve these butter seared scallops with a tropical combo of mango salsa & coconut cauliflower rice—and the whole meal takes less than 30 minutes to make! But scallops are a really versatile protein that you can serve in so many tasty ways. Drizzle your pan seared scallops in a classic garlic lemon butter sauce and serve with a comforting rice pilaf. Serve them with roasted or sauteed veggies, on a simple salad, or with your favorite pasta. Have fun with it!
Easy Pan Seared Butter Scallops
Butter Seared Scallops
- 8 oz sea scallops, fresh or frozen & thawed
- 1-2 Tbsp butter, (or ghee or oil)
- black pepper, to taste
- salt, to taste (optional if using salted butter)
- 1 lemon, juice & zest
- 1-2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
- Pat scallops dry between paper towels. Allow them to rest for 5-10 minutes on paper towels at room temperature. (The drier they are, the better they’ll sear!)
- Heat butter (or ghee or oil) in a pan over medium-high to high heat for 1-2 minutes, until it’s hot and almost smoking.
- Add scallops and season to taste with pepper. (Salt is optional if you're using salted butter.) Then let them sear & don’t move them on the pan!
- Cook scallops for 1-2 minutes and then flip once browned on the bottoms. (If pan is getting too hot or smoky during cooking, turn the heat down slightly.)
- After flipping, season again and cook for another 1-2 minutes on the other side.
- Remove pan from heat and finish scallops with a squeeze of lemon juice, some lemon zest, and a sprinkle of fresh parsley.
- Transfer to a plate and serve seared scallops with mango salsa & coconut cauliflower rice—or whatever sides you like!
- Yields 2 servings of butter seared scallops.