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


  • 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)


  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

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  • 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