Pan Seared Scallops with Lemon Caper Sauce is an elegant yet easy dish that is perfect for special occasions or any day of the week. The caramelized scallops and the delicious sauce is made all in one pan!
Hi there! I’m Jessica Gavin, a Certified Culinary Scientist and cookbook author. I love to teach the science behind better cooking with my readers on JessicaGavin.com. I’m so thrilled to now be a part of the contributor team here on The Recipe Critic, thanks Alyssa! This delicious recipe is a hit with my family when we’re craving an upscale meal made right at home. I created the tastiest pan-seared scallops that have a beautiful caramelized crust. It’s drizzled with a lemon caper sauce that makes each bite even more irresistible.
Scallops may seem like an intimidating and fancy dish that’s reserved only for restaurants. I’m here to share my easy method for creating a beautiful crust every time right at home. There are three key steps to a achieve a golden exterior and tender texture.
The first step is allowing the scallops to sit in a saltwater solution for about 10 minutes before cooking. The benefits of a brine are it delicately seasons the seafood, helps it retain moisture, and prevents the scallops from getting too tough as it’s cooking. If you’ve got a few extra minutes, it’s worthwhile to do.
The second step is to dry the surface of the scallops as thoroughly as possible. This process allows immediate searing and color development while preventing steaming in the pan. I just dry them in between paper towel until there is no residual moisture and they become slightly sticky when touched.
The third step is to choose the right pan and use very high heat when cooking. My go-to is a large cast iron skillet, I use it for spicy garlic shrimp and even skillet cornbread. Stainless steel will also work to get a caramel-colored surface too. The pan needs to be super hot so browning begins immediately as scallops can turn rubbery fairly quickly if overcooked. Once those scallops hit the pan, do not move them until you are ready to flip! I also use a little bit of butter to baste the scallops at the end of cooking to promote even more browning and flavor.
After a few tasty test runs, you will nail the pan-searing technique, impressing your hungry eaters with your gourmet skills.
To complement the buttery scallops, a luscious and bright lemon caper sauce is made right in the pan that the scallops were seared. There is a lot of wonderful flavors retained in the pan, and you want to incorporate it in the sauce. Aromatic garlic, white wine, chicken broth, lemon juice and capers are reduced until a thickened sauce is achieved. A little bit of Dijon mustard is whisked in for a hint of pungency, creating a delicate savory citrus sauce to compliment to the crusted scallops.
These pan seared scallops can be served as an appetizer or light meal. I recommend adding angel hair pasta or sauteed zucchini noodles to toss in the lemon caper sauce for a more filling entree. Now that you know the secrets to perfectly caramelized scallops, you might also enjoy my pan-roasted halibut too. I hope you enjoy this recipe and experiment with your own flavor twists!
- ⅓ cup kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
- 1 cup hot water
- 4 cups ice water
- 1 pound large scallops, 1 ½ inches wide, about 14 to 16
- 3 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- ½ cup white wine (optional)
- 1 cup unsalted chicken broth
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 2 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoon capers, rinsed
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- Black pepper, for seasoning
- 1 tablespoon chopped dill
- 1 teaspoon chopped chives
- 6 lemon wedges
- In a medium-sized bowl combine salt and hot water, stirring to dissolve the salt. Add ice water to cool the brine. Add scallops to the brine and let stand for 10 minutes. Line a sheet pan with paper towels, set aside.
- Drain the scallops, rinse under cold water, and then arrange in a single layer on the paper towel-lined sheet pan. Place another paper towel on top of the scallops and gently pat scallops. Remove as much surface moisture as possible for the best browning results when cooked.
- Allow scallops to sit for 10 minutes at room temperature before cooking.
- In a 12-inch saute pan or cast iron skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat until oil ripples and just begins to smoke.
- Sprinkle scallops lightly with salt on both sides.
- Place scallops into the hot pan without crowding. Gently press scallops with a spatula to make direct contact with the pan.
- Sear scallops without moving them, continuing to cook until bottoms are a rich golden brown, 3 to 3 ½ minutes.
- Add butter to the pan. Turn the scallops over and cook the second side. Use a spoon to baste the scallops with the butter, tilting the pan to collect the butter as needed.
- When the scallops are opaque in color and firm to the touch, about 1 to 2 minutes, turn off heat and transfer to a plate, do not discard pan.
- In the same pan used for cooking the scallops turn heat to medium. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant but not browned.
- Increase heat to medium-high and add wine. Simmer wine, stirring as needed until the wine is reduced by half, about 3 minutes.
- Turn heat to high and add the chicken stock, lemon zest, lemon juice and capers to the pan. Cook until sauce is reduced by half, about ½ cup, 8 to 10 minutes.
- Turn off heat and whisk in Dijon mustard.
- Turn heat to medium and add scallops back to pan, cook until warm, 2 minutes.
- Taste sauce and season with salt and pepper as needed.
- Garnish scallops with chopped dill, chives and serve immediately with lemon wedges.