Pan-Seared Scallops with Lemon Garlic Sauce

Jump to Recipe

Seared scallops with a delicious lemon garlic sauce. For maximum flavor and texture, I brine them first. After a brief sear, I make a simple pan sauce using all the amazing flavors leftover. It’s a gourmet meal all made in one pan!

seared scallops with lemon garlic sauce cooking in a pan

Let’s forgo expensive restaurants and make elegant seared scallops right at home. Often times it can be a bit intimidating to tackle seafood, but I’m going to break down the process and show you how to do it. It’s not as hard as it seems. I’ve added in one extra simple step to ensure that scallops are super flavorful and don’t dry out.

I find that a brine enhances the naturally sweet and light saltwater flavor of scallops. To get a nice caramelized surface, we’re going to thoroughly dry the scallops then sear in a hot pan without moving them. A creamy lemon garlic sauce is made right in the same skillet for extra flavor to drizzle on top.

raw scallops in a bowl of ice water

How to cook seared scallops

  • Brine scallops in salt water.
  • Dry scallops with paper towels.
  • Heat a large pan with olive oil.
  • Sear scallops for 3 minutes.
  • Flip and baste with butter.
  • Remove scallops and saute garlic.
  • Add lemon juice and zest.
  • Turn off heat, whisk in mustard and cream.
  • Garnish with dill and pepper.

Why do you brine scallops before cooking?

Brining scallops in a salt solution helps to more deeply season them inside, not just on the surface while retaining moisture. They are very lean in protein with little fat. Without the insulation, there’s a greater chance for them to become rubbery and dry. The saltwater adds a little extra insurance, and only take 10 minutes.

scallops lined up on paper towel drying

How do you get a golden color on the scallops?

To achieve the attractive caramel kissed surface, the scallops must be as dry as possible. Use plenty of paper towels to soak up the moisture after brining. This ensures the scallops will brown instead of steam when they hit the hot pan. Further drying them uncovered in the refrigerator can also help remove extra moisture.

I found that stainless steel or cast iron gives a nice deep color, however, nonstick pans work well too but should not be used over high heat. Basting the scallops in the final minutes of cooking with butter adds a little extra boost of vibrancy. The milk proteins and lactose in the butter brown which sticks to the outside for an irresistible crust.

scallops searing in a stainless steel pan with two pads of butter

Purchasing wet vs. dry

Wet scallops are soaked in additives called sodium tripolyphosphate to help extend shelf life, keep them whiter in color, and they soak up more moisture. Dry scallops have no chemicals added, just shipped on ice, and I prefer to use them. They have a pinkish or ivory hue, feel stickier, and smell like the sea.

The downside to wet scallops

Sometimes they have an unpleasant chemical soapy taste and release too much moisture in the pan which prevents a nice golden crust from forming. If you’ve ever tried caramelizing scallops and it never seems to happen, this chemical could be the culprit.

spoon mixing together a pan sauce

How do you thaw frozen scallops?

There are two methods to use to defrost scallops without negatively impacting their texture. 1) Defrost them overnight in a single layer on a plate covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours. 2) Place scallops in a resealable plastic bag, air removed and using a bowl, run cool water over them until defrosted, this could take about 30 minutes per pound.

How do you know when seared scallops are fully cooked?

Scallops are very lean, so they cook within minutes in hot oil and on high temperatures. They should have a golden crust and the interior should be opaque in color. The texture should be firm, yet easy to cut through with a fork or knife with little resistance.

seared scallops in a pan with sauce and garnish

What do you serve with scallops?

How does a salty brine make scallops more tender?

The saltwater solution dissolves and reshapes some of the protein in the scallops. The protein is then able to create a gel that likes to trap water inside keeping it tender after cooking.

Pin this recipe to save for later

Pin This

Pan Seared Scallops with Lemon Garlic Sauce

Pan seared scallops with lemon garlic sauce is a gourmet meal. The seafood is brined first for extra flavor and tenderness as is cooks in the hot pan.
Pin Print Review
4.23 from 58 votes
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time40 mins
Servings 4 servings
Course Entree
Cuisine American

Ingredients

Brine

  • cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 4 cups ice cubes
  • 1 pound scallops

Scallops

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon chopped dill
  • black pepper, as needed for seasoning

Instructions 

Brine

  • Combine salt and hot water in a medium bowl, stir until the salt is mostly dissolved. Add ice cubes, once the water is cold add scallops. Brine scallops for 10 minutes.
  • Drain and rinse the scallops under cold water. Transfer to a sheet pan lined with paper towels. Place another sheet of paper towel on top of scallops, gently pressing until each piece is dry. The drier the scallops, the better the sear.
  • Allow scallops to sit for 10 minutes at room temperature before cooking. Right before cooking, lightly season both sides with salt.

Scallops

  • Heat a large 12-inch pan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil. Once hot, add scallops to the pan in a single layer. Gently press on them with a spatula so they make direct contact with the pan. Pan sear until golden brown on the surface, not moving them, about 3 minutes.
  • Add butter to the pan and allow it to melt. Flip scallops over, use a spoon to baste with butter, tilting the pan as needed. Cook until firm but tender, about 1 to 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and transfer to a clean plate.
  • Using the same pan to cook the scallops, turn the heat up to medium. Add in garlic and saute until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add in lemon juice and lemon zest, scrape the pan to remove any browned bits and stir into the sauce, cook for about 1 minute. Turn off the heat and whisk in Dijon mustard and heavy cream. If needed, add in some water to the sauce if you want a thinner consistency. Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired.
  • Add scallops back to the pan, and warm over low heat, 2 minutes. Garnish with chopped dill and black pepper, serve warm.

Recipe Video

Equipment

  • Skillet

Notes

  • Scallop Size: Use jumbo scallops, 8 to 10 pieces per pound (about 2 ounces per scallop), or smaller scallops that are 14 to 16 per pound (about 1 ounce per scallop). Adjust cooking times based on size after flipping the scallops over.
  • Using Wet Scallops: If you don’t have the option to purchase dry scallops, just add about 1 teaspoon of lemon juice to the brine and that will help remove some of the chemicals and mask the soapy taste.

Want to save this recipe?

Create an account easily save your favorite content, so you never forget a recipe again.

Register now

Nutrition Facts
Pan Seared Scallops with Lemon Garlic Sauce
Amount Per Serving
Calories 151 Calories from Fat 72
% Daily Value*
Fat 8g12%
Saturated Fat 3g15%
Cholesterol 39mg13%
Sodium 489mg20%
Potassium 232mg7%
Carbohydrates 4g1%
Protein 13g26%
Vitamin A 145IU3%
Vitamin C 3.5mg4%
Calcium 7mg1%
Iron 0.5mg3%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Tried this recipe?

Tag @jessica_gavin on Instagram. I'd love to see how it turns out!

Tag @jessica_gavin

Filed under:

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.

Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

Jessica's Secrets: Cooking Made Easy!
Get my essential cooking techniques that I learned in culinary school.
Jessica Gavin standing in the kitchen

You May Also Like

Reader Interactions

38 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Jeffrey Zabner says

    Jessica,

    The creamy scallops look wonderful. How to adapt this recipe for a dairy allergy. Use Ghee instead of butter? Use cashew based cream cheese instead of cream?
    Thank you in advance for your consideration.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Jeffrey- I think those are great dairy-free substitutions. Are you okay with Ghee even though it’s from milk? Just adjust the cream amount, may need less since cream cheese is thicker than heavy cream.

      • Jeffrey Zabner says

        Thanks, Jessica.

        Yes, Ghee is fine since the solids containing the casein protein (which is my particular allergy) are gone. There is Ghee and then the is maitre d’Hotel clarified butter which is not as clarified as Ghee.

        Thanks for the tip on the cream cheese. I’ll report back and share my results.

  2. Stacy Bleiweis says

    This was soooo yummy. I added some shrimp and it went well with the scallops. Definitely will make again!!!

  3. Karen says

    The instructions call for brining the scallops. what about dry scallops? Why would you brine dry scallops? Are the scallops you are using wet scallops?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      It’s hard to tell unless they list the sodium tripolyphosphate on the label. I’ve noticed that if the scallops bubble with moisture instead of brown, they are likely wet.

  4. Awnalee says

    Easy, quick and delicious! I didn’t have dijon so I used maybe a 1/2 teaspoon of grated horseradish. YUM! I also added zucchini noodles (cooked about 3-4 min) before putting the scallops back in the pan.

  5. Kate says

    This may be my own faux pas, but my end result of this dish was good but alittle overly salty for my taste buds and next time I’d put in a little less mustard.
    Also I made this with 1/2 lbs. scallops and 1/2 lbs. of calamari for some seafood variation, which I thought was going to be a mistake, but was actually quite good.
    Thank you for this recipe and I will try it again now that I am more acquainted with the process.

  6. George Spatz says

    Looking at these pics it looks like you are using Bay Scallops.(kinda small) Will Sea Scallops survive this recipe?

  7. Kathi V says

    Delicious! Used a non stick pan as suggested. Browning took more time than stated.
    Otherwise followed directions exactly other then using salted butter as that was all I had.

  8. Skipper Plitt says

    Jessica these are amazing!!! I passed this recipe to my my six adult children. I really like how you explain the difference between wet and dry scallops. That’s not something you find in 99% of the cooking blogs/sites. Thank you for everything you do. You are amazing.

  9. Maria Terry says

    I love scallops, my husband doesn’t. I substituted shrimp and tossed the whole thing over linguine. It’s a winner!

  10. Judy says

    My 2nd-time making this recipe and definitely not my last.

    Absolutely love the sauce, the Dijon Mustard is a nice twist.

  11. Wendy says

    I made this with scallops I bought down in Everglade City Fl. Both my husband and I loved it!. It was so creamy and so much flavor we couldn’t stop eating. I served it with coconut ginger rice and fresh asparagus. One of those meals my husband still talks about.

  12. Rolf says

    I have not been good at cooking scallops but I will definately use your recipe next time. It appears to be very efficient and simple. Thank you. I really enjoy being on your email. Rolf

  13. ted hall says

    Great instructions on how to prepare the scallops. The browing and texture was perfect. I did not like the mustard taste though. Thought it was to heavy for scallops. Can you suggest an alternative to mustard?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Thanks for making the recipe! You can use less mustard, perhaps start with 1 teaspoon for a less intense taste. Or you can add in some capers for a similar tangy taste.

  14. Bridget says

    Excellent recipe I followed it precisely and also watched your video. My husband loved it and although the dry scallops were expensive it was worth it. Thanks Jessica

Leave A Reply

Recipe Rating