Pan-Seared Scallops with Lemon Butter

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Pan-seared scallops make a restaurant-worthy meal, and they’re easy to make at home.

Plate of pan-seared scallops with lemon butter.

Pan-seared scallops make an elegant dinner with hardly any effort. Like a perfect steak (see how to cook a steak) or good pan-seared salmon, they don’t require fancy sauces or extra ingredients to make them taste good—just the right technique. The key is to sear them in a very hot pan and resist the urge to fiddle with them as they cook. Letting them sear untouched creates a flavorful, caramelized exterior and tender interior.

To finish the dish, a simple lemon-butter pan sauce is all you need. Citrus works beautifully with scallops as it both highlights their briny sweetness and tempers their natural richness. Feel free to experiment with different citrus flavors like lime, grapefruit, orange, or a combination. You can also dress your scallops up with fresh herbs, like tarragon, chives, thyme, basil, dill, or parsley. Pan-seared scallops are wonderful paired with risotto, a green salad, and a crisp white wine.

“I had given up making scallops at home because I could never get a good sear. Made these tonight and they were perfection!”

Susan G.

What You’ll Need To Make Pan-Seared Scallops with Lemon Butter

ingredients for pan-seared scallops
  • Dry sea scallops: The main ingredient. When purchasing, opt for “dry” or “dry-packed” scallops, as they haven’t been soaked in a solution that causes them to absorb water. This ensures they can achieve a golden, caramelized exterior when cooked. Quality seafood markets often carry these but may not label them explicitly, so don’t hesitate to ask your fishmonger for assistance.
  • Olive oil: Used in combination with butter for searing the scallops. It has a higher smoke point than butter, which prevents burning, and it adds a subtle, fruity flavor to the dish.
  • Butter: Adds rich flavor and helps create a beautiful golden crust on the scallops when searing. It’s also used to finish the dish, adding a silky, luxurious texture to the sauce.
  • Lemon juice: Adds brightness and acidity to the dish, cutting through the richness of the butter and complementing the natural sweetness of the scallops.
  • Jump to the printable recipe for precise measurements

Step-by-Step Instructions

Remove the tiny side muscle where sand can hide and rinse the scallops, if necessary (some scallops already have the muscle removed). Dry the scallops very well with a paper towel.

Scallops on paper towels.

Heat a large cast iron pan or thick-bottom nonstick sauté pan over medium high heat until very hot. (Use two pans if necessary to keep scallops from crowding.) Do not use stainless steel, as the scallops will likely stick. Add the olive oil and ½ tablespoon of the butter, and swirl to coat the pan.

melting butter with oil in skillet

Place the scallops in the pan and season with half of the salt and pepper.

searing scallops on first side

Sear on the first side, without touching or flipping, for about 3 minutes, or until golden. Using tongs, turn the scallops over, season with the remaining salt and pepper, and sear for 1 to 2 minutes more, until the scallops are just cooked through.

searing scallops on second side

Move the scallops to a plate. Remove the pan from the heat and add the remaining butter to the skillet. Add the lemon juice and swirl the pan a few times, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon.

melting butter for sauce in skillet

Add the scallops back in the skillet, baste with the sauce to warm, and then divide onto 4 plates, using all the sauce. Garnish with lemon wedges, if desired.

Plate of pan-seared scallops with lemon butter.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between bay scallops and sea scallops?

Bay and sea scallops differ primarily in size and culinary use. Bay scallops are smaller, about the size of a dime, and are often used in casseroles and seafood stews. Sea scallops, on the other hand, are larger, with a diameter of up to about 2 inches, and are commonly served in restaurants. For pan-searing, as in this recipe, it’s best to use sea scallops.

What should I look for when buying scallops?

When purchasing scallops, look for the “dry” or “dry-packed” variety. These haven’t been treated with a solution that causes them to retain water, which can impede the searing process and prevent them from developing a nicely caramelized crust. If you’re unsure, ask your fishmonger for dry scallops, as they are not always clearly labeled in seafood markets.

How can I tell if scallops are fresh?

Fresh scallops should have a mild, briny scent reminiscent of the ocean. If they start to give off a more pronounced fishy smell, it’s an indicator that they’re beginning to spoil. Since scallops are highly perishable, plan to buy them only a day or two before you intend to cook them.

Do scallops require any prep before cooking?

Yes, scallops have a small muscle on the side, sometimes referred to as the “foot.” I remove it as it can contain sand and it toughens when cooked. Simply peel it away from the main body of the scallop to ensure a clean, pleasant texture.

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Pan-Seared Scallops with Lemon Butter

Pan-seared scallops make a restaurant-worthy meal, and they’re easy to make at home.

Servings: 12 to 16 scallops
Prep Time: 5 Minutes
Cook Time: 10 Minutes
Total Time: 15 Minutes

Ingredients

  • 12 to 16 dry sea scallops (about ¾ lb; see note)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Lemon wedges, for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Remove the tiny, tough side muscle where sand can hide and rinse the scallops if necessary (some scallops are sold with the muscle already removed). Dry the scallops very well with a paper towel, as moisture can impede browning.
  2. Heat a large cast iron pan or thick-bottom nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat until very hot. (Heat two pans if necessary to keep scallops from crowding.) Add the olive oil and ½ tablespoon of the butter, and swirl to coat the pan. Place the scallops in the pan and season with ⅛ teaspoon salt and ⅛ teaspoon pepper. Sear on the first side, without touching or flipping, for about 3 minutes, or until golden. Using tongs, turn the scallops over, season with the remaining ⅛ teaspoon salt and ⅛ teaspoon pepper, and sear for another 1 to 2 minutes, until the scallops are just cooked through.
  3. Move the scallops to a plate. Remove the pan from the heat and add the remaining 3½ tablespoons butter to the skillet. As the butter is melting, add the lemon juice and swirl the pan a few times, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon.
  4. Add the scallops back in the skillet, baste with the sauce to warm, and then divide onto 4 plates, using all the sauce. Garnish with lemon wedges, if desired.
  5. Note: When purchasing scallops, look for the “dry” or “dry-packed” variety. Some scallops on the market are dipped in a solution to extend shelf life. The scallops end up absorbing the water in the solution, increasing the price and causing the scallops to leak moisture when cooked (which will keep them from developing a beautifully caramelized exterior). Quality seafood markets typically carry dry scallops but don’t usually label them; if you're uncertain of what to buy, ask your fishmonger.
  6. Variation: For even more flavor, you can brown the butter to make a brown butter lemon sauce. Before cooking the scallops, start the sauce by adding 3½ tablespoons of the butter to a small, thick-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil, and then simmer on medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes. You will notice foaming and then milk particles will begin to drop to the bottom. When the butter turns golden and starts to smell nutty, it’s done. Set aside for a minute or two. Strain through the finest strainer you have to remove the brown bits. (It’s called “brown butter,” but a key to browning butter is to remove when it is golden, before it paradoxically turns brown and burns.) Set the strained butter aside and proceed with the recipe, adding the browned butter to the pan after cooking the scallops.

Pair with

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (4 servings)
  • Serving size: 4 scallops
  • Calories: 202
  • Fat: 15 g
  • Saturated fat: 8 g
  • Carbohydrates: 4 g
  • Sugar: 0 g
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Protein: 12 g
  • Sodium: 394 mg
  • Cholesterol: 55 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Comments

  • I am not a good cook. my husband is a retired chef and restaurant owner and has always done the cooking at home. But he has been recovering from some surgery and I am cooking if you can call it that. LOL! Well this recipe was so easy it will now be my go to. Thanks

    • — Susan P on July 8, 2024
    • Reply
  • Love this recipe … I’ve prepared it several times. We enjoy the simplicity of this recipe.

    Tonight, however, I was preparing the scallops for my 16 y.o. son. He likes sauces that are a little creamy. So, when I added the extra butter and lemon juice, I tossed in a couple small minced garlic cloves. As the sizzle settled, I added a couple TBS of heavy cream. Stirred well to combine. Simmer a couple minutes to thicken. Served scallops & sauce over cheese tortellini garnished with a few thyme leaves (can’t have too much green!!).

    • — A@4U on May 15, 2024
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  • Perfection! Made them tonight.

    • — Mary Ann C on March 7, 2024
    • Reply
  • Used truffle olive oil, but everything else the same. Chef’s kiss!

    • — Christy on February 17, 2024
    • Reply
  • Brava!! Delicious- I did use frozen scallops from Costco but dried thoroughly as you recommended and cooked in cast iron skillet. Better than I have eaten in any restaurant. Thanks for all of your great recipes and tips. Liz

    • — Liz landa on November 16, 2023
    • Reply
  • Pan Seared Scallops recipe is so easy and so delicious. You did it again, Jenn! Another excellent recipe! Thanks!!

    • — J. Mansfield on October 21, 2023
    • Reply
  • So delicious!!! And so easy to make!!! Wow. I followed the instructions exactly. I didn’t have a lemon on hand so made the scallops without the lemon juice. Got rave reviews from the family. My teen (discerning palate) declared that it’s the best thing I’ve made in a while. Thank you, Jenn! All the little tips you provided along the way were really helpful and enabled them to turn out sensational!

    • — CAMOM on October 16, 2023
    • Reply
  • Made it last night, best scallops ever. Simple and quick. Probably could have been a little less done but turned out better than the grilled scallops at a famous New England restaurant last weekend! Suspect it had something to do with adding the olive oil and butter to the already hot pan.

    • — Peter on September 30, 2023
    • Reply
  • WOW! I have never before had success with getting that great sear on scallops before. I am a senior and can’t handle the heaviness of a cast iron pan. So, I followed your directions, thoroughly dried the scallops and used my stainless steel frying pan, heating it up on my very hot propane fuelled cooktop before adding the olive oil butter mixture to the pan. Within minutes, the scallops developed that incredibly wonderful sear and were absolutely delicious!!! Thank you so much for this wonderfully helpful information!

    Judy

    • — Judy on September 3, 2023
    • Reply
  • These turned out beautifully!

    • — MP on August 21, 2023
    • Reply
  • Restaurant worthy for sure. Elegant and simple. Secret is good quality ingredients, dry scallops from your fish monger.

    • — Cooking for life on August 13, 2023
    • Reply
  • The best scallop recipe I have ever tried.

    • — June Smith on June 23, 2023
    • Reply
  • Very informative, simple step-by-step instructions and easy to make, They were delicious! Thank you Jenn!

    • — Jackie on May 19, 2023
    • Reply
  • I have used this simple preparation twice and it is absolutely spot on! I never bothered with lemon juice in the sauce previously,but just a little really kicks up the flavor.

    • — Bob on April 30, 2023
    • Reply
  • The salt in this receive is way too much, it ruined my scallops… they were VERY salty!

    • — Debbie on April 23, 2023
    • Reply
    • Did you put that much on each scallop? Pretty sure that was for the whole dish.

      • — NotRick on November 15, 2023
      • Reply
  • Another great recipe from Jenn. First time we made scallops, followed Jenn’s recipe exactly and success! Scallops were nicely browned on outside, moist and tender inside. Perfection.

    • — Marianne on February 2, 2023
    • Reply
  • Delicious!! Followed the recipe exactly and they turned out perfect.

    • — Anne on February 2, 2023
    • Reply
  • Made as directed, used frozen, thawed and dried on layers of paper towels scallops. I think I had the pan too hot as they got a lot darker than yours in half the time! I always use cast iron. It was simple, but fabulous!

    • — A Home Cook on December 31, 2022
    • Reply
  • Amazing! so delicious and easy to make. Honestly, I don’t think I can make these any other way!

    • — Kathleen on November 19, 2022
    • Reply
  • Great, simple, delicious. My wife and I have these new favorite scallops. We’re making these for our adult children over the holidays.

    • — Matt C on October 28, 2022
    • Reply
  • This recipe for scallops was a huge hit! Restaurant quality indeed. I made it as written, using a cast iron skillet, previously frozen scallops and the brown butter lemon sauce technique. Using a bunch of paper towels and a half hour uncovered in the fridge before cooking, I ensured that the scallops were dry enough to gain a nice sear as pictured here. I’ll never make ’em any other way again. Thanks, as always, Jenn.

    • — John M. on September 1, 2022
    • Reply
  • Would monkfish medallions work in this recipe?

    • — Mary on July 13, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure — please LMK how it turns out with monkfish!

      • — Jenn on July 15, 2022
      • Reply
  • It’s amazing how something so simple can be so delicious. Loved this recipe!

  • Superb

  • Thanks for the info about the fact that they add a substance to keep them longer on the shelf–

    • — Francine Jacobson
    • Reply
  • My husband and daughter share a birthday and they both wanted me to cook scallops for dinner. So, I relied on this recipe knowing that Once Upon a Chef is so tried and true. Indeed, the dish was an enormous success. Thanks for making so many of us look good, Jenn Segal! Her dishes are always a success, always a hit. Her tips are always helpful, even for experienced cooks. Continues to be one of the best cooking blogs around.

    • Made this recipe exactly as shared – added diced lemon zest before serving. Everyone loved it. Looked for a recipe my Mom would have loved, she loved scallops any style. I think she would have approved!

    • I couldn’t have said it any better!

      Jenn, my family and friends continually praise my cooking & baking …I always rely on your 2 books & website 😊

      THANK YOU for your steady supply of great recipes accompanied by all the wonderful tips!

      Lisa

      • — Lisa D’Abramo
      • Reply
      • Thank you both for your nice comments — so glad you like the recipes!

    • I concur. You know you can trust a recipe will be delicious for guests before even trying it out first. Love your recipes, Jenn!

      • — saguaro girl on August 23, 2022
      • Reply
    • Over it ,cut the butter in roughly half , for 4 big scallops about 10.5 Oz best scallops I have ever made .

      • — Robert Carlton on December 31, 2022
      • Reply
  • Can I use frozen scallops?

    • Sure, Beth, I think frozen scallops would work here. Just make sure that after you’ve thawed them, you dry them very thoroughly with a paper towel. I’d love to hear how they turn out!

  • I made these last night and they turned out perfectly! So simple and quick. The lemon-butter sauce makes these next level. Thank you for another delicious recipe!

  • I had given up making scalllops at home because I could never get a good sear. Made these tonight and they were perfection! Heating the pan till it was super hot BEFORE adding oil and butter made all the difference. Thanks for that tip!

  • Couldn’t be easier or more delicious. As with pan-seared filet, etc., LISTEN TO THE CHEF: Use a cast iron pan!! Even an All-Clad skillet didn’t work nearly as well as Mom’s 80-plus-year-old “WagnerWare” (available on eBay, cheap) hand-me-down or Le Creuset cast iron.

  • I struggle with searing (until they look like your photo) without the butter burning and ruining the future of the pan sauce. Do you have a suggestion for that?

    • Hi Anna, I use a combination of oil and butter to help keep the butter from burning. It will brown a little bit but shouldn’t burn. Just make sure you get the pan really hot before add the butter and oil. If you’d like, you can use only oil; just keep in mind the scallops won’t brown as much with just oil. Hope that helps!

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