Mark Bittman’s Seared Scallops with Pan Sauce

This is my idea of a perfect—and easy—special-occasion scallops recipe, and is taken from Mark Bittman’s classic “How To Cook Everything: The Basics.”

Mark Bittman’s Seared Scallops with Pan Sauce
Serves four 6-ounce portions

3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-1/2 pounds sea scallops
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup dry white wine, or more as needed
4 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Cut 2 tablespoons of the butter into pea-sized pieces, put it on a small plate, and stick it in the freezer. You’ll use this butter later, in the sauce.

Heat a large skillet over medium-heat high for 3 or 4 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil and wait for the butter to melt.

Pat the scallops dry with paper towels (only a dry scallop with sear properly), add them to the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper; work in batches if necessary to avoid crowding the skillet. 

The idea is to brown the scallops well on both sides without overcooking them, so keep the heat as high as you can without creating too much smoke. The scallops will offer no resistance when they’re ready to turn. Press down gently while the scallops cook to encourage full contact with the pan, then listen for a hiss: That’s moisture heating and evaporating. 

Cook, turning once, until they are well browned on both sides but not quite cooked through, 2 minutes per side (less if the scallops are under 1 inch across; more if they’re over). Transfer the scallops to a plate.

Note: A perfectly seared scallop should be nicely browned on the outside and buttery in the middle. A paring knife should slide in and out with almost no resistance, but as always, the best way to check it is to make a small slice into one and look. The inside should remain translucent. High-quality scallops are delicious raw and tend to dry out quickly: It’s better to undercook than overcook.

Stir in the garlic, lemon juice, and wine and scrape all the brown bits off the bottom of the skillet with a spatula. Lower the heat to medium and cook until the liquid in the skillet thickens, a minute or two, then whisk in the butter you chilled in the freezer, one bit at a time, to make a creamy sauce, adding another tablespoon or two of liquid if necessary.

Return the scallops to the skillet and add the chives. Adjust the heat so the sauce bubbles gently and toss to coat the scallops with the sauce. Remove pan from heat. To serve, transfer the scallops to dishes or a platter and spoon the sauce over all.