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Tom Colicchio's Pan-Roasted Sea Scallops with Scallop Jus

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Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Executive Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: How to get more out of seared scallops -- and cook them perfectly every time.

Why don't more of us sear scallops at home? Let's change that.

Scallops are the world's friendliest mollusk: they (usually) aren't sold with shells to wrangle, or wiggly innards to catch grit. They look like big marshmallows, but taste much better for dinner.

Are they intimidating because, once cooked, they look so fancy and precise, with that flat-top of crust and implied technique? Or because they're more expensive than, say, a block of tofu? (It's true, they are.)

That doesn't stop us from ordering them in restaurants, but at home we feel safer roasting a chicken or grilling a steak. This makes no sense to me.

The truth is: large sea scallops take roughly 3 minutes to cook, and are incredibly easy to get right. If you follow a few general rules of searing (we'll get to those), they will taste better than what you'd get at most swanky seafood restaurants.


Tom Colicchio's recipe is a perfect place to start. If you've nerded out on his Top Chef critiques, you already know: what Colicchio established at his restaurant Craft wasn't intensive cooking with a lot of pomp. It's what you could make and would make in your home kitchen, if you had a functioning hearth and served every dish in a shiny copper vessel.

Colicchio doesn't crowd his ingredients; he handles them carefully and cleverly -- adding herbs at the end of simmering stock to keep them bright, serving fava and cranberry beans in sauces made of more of themselves.

More: How to make chicken stock, the Tom Colicchio way.

So naturally, he has a way to not just perfectly pan-roast scallops, but to get even more out of them.

We're taught to pull off and throw away the side muscle -- the little flap that hugs the side of the scallop -- because it seizes up and goes tough when cooked. It can also trap grit. But even though it's a textural blight, it's full of sweet, briny flavor we should be more hesitant to lose.

So Colicchio simmers the lot of them with aromatics and broth to make a scallop jus, a cheffy-sounding name for an economic sauce. You're making a rich, concentrated stock from the cooking detritus you would normally trash, like we've seen with shrimp shells and corn cobs and vegetable peelings. What else could we be eating more thoroughly?

Here's how to get more scallop out of your scallop:

As you're organizing your scallops, pull off each one's little side muscle (if it's still there) and gather them in a bowl. Pop the scallops back in the fridge.

To make your jus, sauté onion, fennel, and celery till soft before adding the bowlful of muscles.


Splash in white wine, then chicken stock, and throw in some herbs.

Let this reduce down by half, then strain and swirl in some butter. Jus is done, and dinner will be there in 3 minutes.


Time to revisit those searing rules: 1. Dry the scallops well -- this also means going out of your way to buy dry scallops (ones that haven't been preserved in sodium tripolyphosphate, which makes them bloated and strange-tasting and gets in the way of a good crust).

2. Get the pan super hot (with a high smoke point oil like refined peanut) and give them lots of space, to keep the surface from cooling down and leave plenty of room for steam to escape.

3. Once they're in, leave them be for a minute before lifting one up to peek. If they're gorgeous on the bottom, they're ready to flip.


4. Not strictly required for a good sear, but a quick butter baste (i.e. tilting the pan and spooning foaming butter over the goods) is never a bad way to end this process. It helps finish cooking the scallops evenly, bathes them in browning butter and thyme (or garlic or shallots or mint), and looks really cool when you do it.

Ready? Go.



Tom Colicchio's Roased Sea Scallops with Scallop Jus

Adapted slightly from Craft of Cooking: Notes and Recipes from a Restaurant Kitchen (Clarkson Potter, 2003)

Serves 8

2 1/2 pounds large sea scallops
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small white onion, peeled and chopped
1 small fennel bulb, cored and chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 sprig fresh tarragon, 1 sprig fresh thyme, and 1 fresh bay leaf tied in cheesecloth
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 sprigs fresh thyme

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

The Genius Recipes cookbook is here! (Well, almost.) The book is a mix of greatest hits from the column and unpublished new favorites -- all told, over 100 recipes that will change the way you think about cooking. It'll be on shelves in April, but you can pre-order your copy now.

Photos by James Ransom, except Tom Colicchio by Bill Bettencourt

Tags: genius, tom colicchio, scallops, seafood, everyday cooking, how-to & diy, Top Chef, technique, mollusks, using the whole buffalo

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Comments (32)


8 months ago Stephanie DiSantis

I have to admit, I've read countless articles about how "easy" scallops are to sear but I think it's a big ruse. I've tried this very method a million times and have never ever been able to successfully flip a scallop whole no matter how long I wait without moving them. They always stick to the pan and come apart. Any tricks I'm missing (I have tried both oil and butter, and I make sure the pan is super hot and that I don't move the scallops for a couple of minutes)?


8 months ago Peter Shelsky

You're not letting the pan get hot enough before putting the scallops in. This holds true for any fish or seafood. The oil needs to be smoking hot. Before committing to putting the scallops in the oiled pan, carefully drag the corner of one scallop through the oil in the pan. If it's not hot enough, it will stick immediately. If it is hot enough, it will slide with ease.


8 months ago Stephanie DiSantis

Thanks Peter, appreciate the advice but as I said above, the pan is hot. Super hot. Like smoking hot. It's hot. Hotter than hades. Trust me. It's not that.


8 months ago Shelley Matheis

Instead of tongs, try using a spatula to flip the scallops.


8 months ago MRubenzahl

Stephanie, I have done this and it does work. A couple of thoughts:

1. Most important is to buy "dry" scallops (not treated with STPP). I don't think the labeling always tells you. Good news is that all Costco scallops are dry; so should be the scallops from any quality vendor.

2. Dry very, very well with paper towels before you place them in the pan.

3. Leave them until they "release." You say you left them several minutes. That should be right. They should stick to the pan at first, then release as they brown.


6 months ago mizerychik

Are you using a cast iron pan? Cast iron with a metal fish spatula will make the entire production infinitely easier.


over 1 year ago 2785

This recipe is absolutely fantastic. Followed it to a T (other than substituting a dried bay leaf in my bouquet garni) and had incredible results. Delicate yet rich and multi-layered yet straightforward flavors. Definitely a winner.


over 1 year ago Linda Dulmes

I like to add a blackening seasoning to my scallops. when should I add that?


8 months ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Linda, I'm sorry I missed this question until now -- I would recommend trying this recipe as written first, but if you want to use blackening seasoning, you could sprinkle it on the scallops just before searing, with the salt and pepper (or in place of it, assuming there's already some in the mix).


over 1 year ago jan voris

For years I bought Scallops at my local grocery store. Sometimes they tasted great, other times they were bland or awful and would not sear properly. Then I read in the Costco magazine about dry pack scallops. I found out that my local store was hit or miss about supplying dry pack scallops. Hence, the difference in what I was experiencing. Now, I only buy scallops at Costco. I pay more but I always get scallops that taste Sweet and like the sea. They sear perfectly if you follow the customary directions. This may not be a scientific explanation, but it convinced me that dry pack scallops are the ONLY ones to purchase.


over 1 year ago kasia S.

My local fish monger has dry scallops, they come in this huge gold tin, but I think the last time I went there someone must have given me regular ones because they were wetter and didn't sear up.
Lesson learned - ask to see them, check twice lol.


over 1 year ago MRubenzahl

Most important: Use good scallops that were not treated with sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP). Dry packed means not treated. STPP makes the scallops retain water -- so you pay for water and when you try to sear them, they release the water and a good sear is impossible. And it tastes metallic.

I buy scallops at Costco, which does not allow wet pack. Know your supplier.


over 1 year ago Karen Habbestad

"To make your jus, sauté onion, fennel, and celery till soft before adding the bowlful of muscles."

Sounds delicious!


over 1 year ago Patricia

The word "muscles" is correct. The recipe refers to adding the side muscles that were removed from the scallop.


over 1 year ago Doralece

You say to use peanut oil in the pan but then you suggest drizzling the butter sauce over the scallops, so is butter added to the pan after the scallops are added? Doralece


over 1 year ago Jazzcat

the recipe calls for, "3 tablespoons unsalted butter"
in step 2,
"Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium heat. Whisk in 1 tablespoon of the butter"
in step 3,
"Cook the scallops without moving them until they are golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes, then flip them and add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and the thyme. Baste with the foaming butter and cook until they are firm outside but just barely warm at the center, about 30 seconds more."


over 1 year ago toast-home-cooking

Excellent post for demystifying one of the great "fast foods!" Any tips on cooking scallops in advance (searing), then reheating right before serving?


over 1 year ago Mark O'Leary

Best tip: don't do it. You will end up with a big chewy eraser.


over 1 year ago kasia S.

I would like to have more info on what kind of pan to use, I have various All Clad steel copper core pans which I think I shoudl have used instead of a cast iron skillet which ended up searing the crust into the pan adn not on the scallop.


over 1 year ago Mark O'Leary

Cast iron is great (I have several)--every bit the equal of those expensive All Clads (also several), but if your cast is not properly seasoned and properly preheated, you will have a disaster. My All Clad work great on this kind of cooking, as long as you get it screaming hot.


over 1 year ago kasia S.

I think you are correct, I used my pan the day before for something and I dont think it was perfectly spotless, ugh, lesson learned, I got the dry scallops as well, only buy those after reading about then in Bon Appetit Magazine.

Thank you for replying :)


6 months ago mizerychik

I make seared scallops about once a month, and I always use my cast iron pan. Mark is right that a spotless, seasoned pan is crucial for great scallops, and I find it much easier to flip them than in a steel pan.


over 1 year ago SusanR

OK, well... I am going to have to try this. The instructions give me confidence that I can do it. Wish me luck!


over 1 year ago Lavender

Thanks for sharing this. It isn't easy to make good scallops, those are looking absolutely delicious!


over 1 year ago Lorrie Burkes

Is there a way to tell or know if the scallops you're buying have been kept in sodium tripolyphosphate?


over 1 year ago Tom Wild

Use a good fishmonger or trusted market, and ask. If they're dry, the vendor will be happy and proud to say so.


over 1 year ago MRubenzahl

Buy scallops at Costco. They forbid suppliers to use it.


over 1 year ago Ryan Lenz

What's the problem with tripolyphosphate (other than you're paying for more water)? Does it impact flavor/texture? Or is this chemo-phobia?


over 1 year ago MRubenzahl

Profound effect on flavor and texture. I hate the metallic flavor it brings. When you heat the treated scallops, they release the excess water quickly, making a good sear impossible.

(Good question -- I am with you about the often automatic response to anything that sounds like chemistry. In this case, the reasons to avoid it are real.)


over 1 year ago Ryan Lenz

Alright, good to know. Both points make sense. It is interesting that it imparts a metallic flavor. Looking at the formula, there aren't any metals that jump out at me as "metallic tasting" (sodium ion certainly wouldn't be!). But I suppose flavor is more complex than that. The water-release during searing makes sense as well. I wonder if there is any type of "leaching" that could be done to remove the TPP. (Yes--its probably much better to just avoid it!)

Anyway, thanks for a logical, reasoned answer. This "it's a chemical--it must be evil and toxic" mindset goes way overboard on internet forums. I looked up the MSDS on TPP, and the lethal does is over 300 grams (rat data). You'd have to eat an incredible amount of scallops to get that kind of dose! I'd be much more worried about heavy metals....which are definitely taken up by scallops (let's not forget--they ARE bottom feeders!)


over 1 year ago MRubenzahl

"Metallic" is my imprecise word and since it's been years since I have had wet-packed scallops, that's probably not even right. I should have used the much more precise term, "yucky." Pretty sure that's accurate ;)


over 1 year ago Liz B. @ UMAMI LIFE

Thanks so much for this empowering post! People really can recreate restaurant-quality meals in their own kitchen for half the price and double the flavor! Now I'm curious about that briny "side flap" you mentioned, and what I've been missing out on all this time...

http://thatumamilife.wordpress... - a clean eating bento blog. Japanese or Asian-inspired!