Pan Seared Scallops with Lemon Caper Sauce

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!

Pan Seared Scallops with Lemon Caper Sauce

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 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.

Scallops with golden crust searing in a cast iron skillet

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.

Whisk mixing a lemon caper sauce in a cast iron pan

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.

Golden brown scallops sitting in a lemon caper sauce

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!

4.9 from 20 reviews
Pan Seared Scallops with Lemon Caper Sauce
Pan Seared Scallops with Lemon Caper Sauce is a simple yet elegant dish that is perfect for special occasions or any day of the week. The caramelized scallops and sauce is made all in one pan.
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: French
Serves: 4
  • 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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Allow scallops to sit for 10 minutes at room temperature before cooking.
  4. 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.
  5. Sprinkle scallops lightly with salt on both sides.
  6. Place scallops into the hot pan without crowding. Gently press scallops with a spatula to make direct contact with the pan.
  7. Sear scallops without moving them, continuing to cook until bottoms are a rich golden brown, 3 to 3 ½ minutes.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Increase heat to medium-high and add wine. Simmer wine, stirring as needed until the wine is reduced by half, about 3 minutes.
  12. 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.
  13. Turn off heat and whisk in Dijon mustard.
  14. Turn heat to medium and add scallops back to pan, cook until warm, 2 minutes.
  15. Taste sauce and season with salt and pepper as needed.
  16. Garnish scallops with chopped dill, chives and serve immediately with lemon wedges.
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Jessica Gavin

Jessica is a Certified Food and Culinary Scientist. She’s also a culinary school graduate and a teacher at heart. Jessica loves nothing more than unraveling the science behind better, healthier cooking and sharing that know-how with her readers at

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  1. I have two frozen cooked lobster that have been frozen for two years, my question is would they be good if thawed to eat, and if so can they be heated?
    I love the scallop recipe as I love all seafood shrimp crab, salmon, clam chowder.

  2. Made this tonight and got rave review from my husband. Loved the lemon and caper addition served over pasta.

  3. I have tried several of your recipes and there’s not one yet I’ve come across I wouldn’t make again! Everything is absolutely delicious! One request… I’ve recently started really watching what I eat seems on this program that i’m doing well with… I’d there any way to include nutritional value with your recipes? Please and thank you

  4. I find there are two types of scallops. Those that have a sharp offensive sting to my tongue and those that taste perfect. I have asked the question over the years what causes the difference and no one seemed to know until a man in a fish market said it is due to the chemical they are shipped in. He said his were not shipped in that chemical and sure enough his scallops tasted great.

    Do you know what causes it and how to clean them to rid them of this.

    1. You can find two types of. Callous at the supermarkets or fish stores. The ‘dry’ scallops are more money and do not have the added water and chemicals you were referring to. ‘Wet’ scallops are cheaper because of the added water weight. Big difference in taste. Hope this helps.

    2. Dry scallops vs scallops injected with sodium tripolyphosphate. This is for the purpose of plumping up the scallops and making them weigh heavier. The treated scallops are very difficult to get a good sear on, they leach water into the pan when searing. Ask your seafood vendor if scallops are dry pack or wet pack. If they don’t know find another source for your seafood 🙂

  5. I saw the video of this tonight and thought *wow*. I showed it to my youngest son (20) who is a budding gourmet. He asked “Are you thinking about this for dinner, Dad?”. 15 mins later we were hitting the local specialty seafood market, then the local Ralphs for the few things we were missing, and a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. I’m sure we missed the mark, caramelizing the bottom of the pan, and using a bit too much salt (Sea salt vs Kosher). But we had a blast making dinner, For the first time out I have say that this is a fabulous recipe. The reduction was eye openingly tasty. It was a treat to eat, and we will have a go it again sometime soon. Thank you.

    1. That is awesome and the best story! I am so glad that you had that time with your son and you guys could hit it off in the kitchen. Thanks so much for sharing and following along with me! XOXO

  6. I make mine with a home made rub ,I roll them in, then cook them quickly in a very hot pan, with butter and a bit of peanut oil( high burn level)getting a sear on each side. Remove from pan & add some heavy cream fresh lemon juice and fresh juice of an orange to the pan. bring to a boil and reduce. add scallops back in for the last minute. Garnish with sprig of fresh dill. BEST ever!

  7. this dish looks amazing! I am going to try this. If you added a little cream to make it a cream sauce would that be ok?? serve with angel hair??

    1. I don’t at this time. I am working on an ebook for all followers so hopefully when that comes out everyone will have more of my recipes at their fingertips! Thanks so much for following along with me! XOXO

  8. Thank you for this amazing recipe! I have made scallops many times but never thought to brine them, definitely a new to me go to! The sauce was great! I followed instructions to the t. I could not get over how “buttery smooth” the scallops were! These were frozen scallops from Aldi’s btw, nothing special, it was the technique. Cheers!

  9. I had friends over who are allergic to shellfish and also vegan, so I made this with scalloped king oyster mushroom stems, substituting “no-chicken broth” for the broth and a little bit of margarine for the small amount of butter needed. (And I soaked the mushroom stems in salt water with a little bit of seaweed.) It turned out fabulously! The sauce was spot on, and my friends couldn’t put their forks down. Thanks for this recipe!

  10. Thank you for helping me be the hero tonight! My bride of 38 years was absolutely raving about this dish and said it was a “keeper!” She’s going out to buy more scallops tomorrow! Awesome! And the sauce would be excellent over some angel hair pasta, but that’s for next time. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  11. Lemon in combination with capers are very strong flavors. Both are great but together they over power the flavor of the scallops. My husband did not like that fact. I followed the recipe to a tee. And I thought that adding dill and chives at the end, both distinct flavors, would cover the taste of the scallops even more so I just sprinkled a small amount of chopped chives. The sauce went well with pasta but not so much the scallops. I think chicken breast would be better than such a light seafood.

  12. Exceptional. I can see this sauce doing so much duty with other seafood, pasta etc. Thank you for the technique to get a good crust on the scallops. I had been told that only day boat scallops can get a good crust, that frozen have too much water integrated into their tissues.

  13. I made this recipe exactly as written ( i did leave the scallops in a warmed oven so they wouldn’t get too cold). It was fantastic, I ended up making it with steamed green beans and quinoa/brown rice. There was a very nice amount of sauce left so I threw the beans into it and after we ate all the beans we dumped the quinoa into the sauce and loved that as well. I will definitely make this again!

  14. Can the scallops be refrigerated after first cooing (in the morning) the sauce made then also and refrigerated also. Take scallops out of fridge maybe 20 minutes before serve time, heat sauce in a chafing dish, then warm scallops and serve? Want to make these for a party but like to get as much cleaned up ahead of time as possible.

  15. Made two pounds of scallops and did one and a half of all ingredients. Excellent! Excellent! Excellent! Served with angel hair pasta. Also, bought fresh scallops from local seafood market. Cost an arm and a leg but well worth the price. They were as fresh as fresh can be and made this fish a true gourmet meal. Will definitely make again and save the sauce recipe for other fish.

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