How to Cook Scallops

I grew up, partially, on a diet of scallops.  My Mother is Acadian (from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia) and summer vacations would often end with a cooler of frozen scallops (packed like this) jammed into the trunk of the car and brought back to Ontario to eat through the winter.  Scallops travel well.

My Father has always had a knack for pan frying things and scallops were no exception.  He was never afraid of heat, let the pan come to temperature before adding oil and then let oil come to temperature before adding whatever he was frying.  He never crowds the pan and generally flips things once.

Despite all of that, I still struggled with scallops.  They either failed to brown or they became golden and chewy.

Not anymore.

There’s one or two in the picture above that are a bit overdone to my liking but even they were moist and soft on the inside.  These look darker than many cook them to and that’s a bit of their magic – the exterior is almost a crust which gives way to the moist inside and is not at all chewy.

Beyond my Father’s advice, I employ a trick learned from a few Chef friends: I brine them in salt water.  It seems odd to think that soaking them in salt water will help dry them but it’s exactly true.  You can actually see the difference from before and after brining.  This allows the outsides to get really crisp really fast (and reduces the amount the pan’s temperature drops) and results in an awesome final product.

How to Make Pan Fried Scallops

  1. Start with any amount of scallops that you want.  Drain them and place into a large pan (as close to a single layer as you can).
  2. Scatter coarse salt on the scallops.  Be liberal – you’ll be rinsing them later.  For a pound of scallops I would use about a tablespoon.
  3. Toss the scallops lightly to allow the salt to distribute.
  4. Wait 2 minutes.
  5. Cover the scallops with water.  Stir 2-3 times to incorporate.
  6. After 10-12 minutes, drain and rinse the scallops well.  Pat dry with a towel.  They can be store in the fridge for an hour at this point (perhaps longer but I offer no promises).
  7. Heat a heavy pan, such as a cast iron frying pan an medium-high (closer to high).
  8. Add the cooking oil of your choice (coconut oil is a great option here because of its health benefits, high heat threshold and flavor)
  9. Just before the oil starts to smoke, add the scallops.  Leave lots of room between them and don’t be afraid to cook 2-3 batches.
  10. Season with salt and pepper.
  11. Do not tear them from the pan to flip them. Gently touch them after a few minutes – when they release themselves from the pan (i.e. flip easily), it’s time to flip them.  Scallops tell you when they’re ready (this is often longer than most are willing to wait).
  12. Once the second side releases, they are done.  Set them aside (pat off any excess oil; there shouldn’t be a lot at this point).
  13. Serve as is or season again (i.e. chili flakes, fresh lime and avocado make a great addition now as does a touch of melted butter, garlic and chives).

What are your tricks to cooking scallops?


  1. Why do you salt them and soak them?

  2. Sorry, I didn’t finish…We eat them seasonally here in Maine and I have never soaked them to dry them, I just fry them after rinsing them off.. We also love to chop them and make Scallop tacos…usually with the leftovers.

    • Tacos sound great!

      These were frozen from my Mother’s home in Nova Scotia. I briefly salt brine them to dry them out a little – the salt will pull moisture from the inside out…

      If you want to see the difference, cook two batches – some briefly brined and some not. I find the ones in the brine get really crispy on the outside and the middle stays a fantastic texture.


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