Weeknight Cooking

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

May  7, 2014

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.

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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].

Photos by James Ransom, except Tom Colicchio by Bill Bettencourt

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  • Peg Sweeney
    Peg Sweeney
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    Stephanie DiSantis
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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Peg S. November 26, 2020
What do I do with the scallop jus?
Stephanie D. January 4, 2015
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)?
Peter S. January 4, 2015
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.
Stephanie D. January 4, 2015
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.
Shelley M. January 4, 2015
Instead of tongs, try using a spatula to flip the scallops.
MRubenzahl January 4, 2015
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.
mizerychik March 6, 2015
Are you using a cast iron pan? Cast iron with a metal fish spatula will make the entire production infinitely easier.
2785 May 11, 2014
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.
Linda D. May 9, 2014
I like to add a blackening seasoning to my scallops. when should I add that?
Kristen M. January 2, 2015
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).
janet V. May 9, 2014
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.
kasia S. May 9, 2014
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.
Arrxx December 21, 2017
Are the Costco scallops from the frozen section?
MRubenzahl May 8, 2014
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.
Karen H. May 7, 2014
"To make your jus, sauté onion, fennel, and celery till soft before adding the bowlful of muscles."

Sounds delicious!
Patricia May 10, 2014
The word "muscles" is correct. The recipe refers to adding the side muscles that were removed from the scallop.
Doralece May 7, 2014
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
Jazzcat May 7, 2014
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."
Excellent post for demystifying one of the great "fast foods!" Any tips on cooking scallops in advance (searing), then reheating right before serving?
Mark O. May 7, 2014
Best tip: don't do it. You will end up with a big chewy eraser.
kasia S. May 7, 2014
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.
Mark O. May 7, 2014
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.
kasia S. May 9, 2014
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 :)
mizerychik March 6, 2015
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.
SusanR May 7, 2014
OK, well... I am going to have to try this. The instructions give me confidence that I can do it. Wish me luck!
Lavender May 7, 2014
Thanks for sharing this. It isn't easy to make good scallops, those are looking absolutely delicious!
Lorrie B. May 7, 2014
Is there a way to tell or know if the scallops you're buying have been kept in sodium tripolyphosphate?
Tom W. May 7, 2014
Use a good fishmonger or trusted market, and ask. If they're dry, the vendor will be happy and proud to say so.
MRubenzahl May 8, 2014
Buy scallops at Costco. They forbid suppliers to use it.
Ryan L. May 8, 2014
What's the problem with tripolyphosphate (other than you're paying for more water)? Does it impact flavor/texture? Or is this chemo-phobia?
MRubenzahl May 8, 2014
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.)
Ryan L. May 8, 2014
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!)
MRubenzahl May 8, 2014
"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 ;)
Liz B. May 7, 2014
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...

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