I picked up some fresh sea scallops (the large ones) today and I cooked them up in butter with salt, pepper and finished with a squeeze of lemon. They were fine, but because I only have a non-stick pan they didn’t get the nice brown sear on them.
Would the same preparation using a grill pan work better? Or can you give me other, very simple suggestions for a quick scallop dinner? I also have a stalk of baby bok choi I’d like to use - bonus points for a suggestion that combines them!
Oh, and I am not eating meat these days, so please no “wrap them in bacon” suggestions, though the very idea does threaten my “no meat” resolve.
You should be able to sear anything on a non-stick pan. The sear partly is the food’s sugar content carmelizing, so given some surface sugar, anything should sear. Having said all that, I have close to zero experience cooking sea scallops.
While PTFE is stable and non-toxic, it begins to deteriorate after the temperature of cookware reaches about 260 °C (500 °F), and decompose above 350 °C (660 °F). These degradation products can be lethal to birds, and can cause flu-like symptoms in humans.
According to a synopsis of a 1955 study on the Fluoride Action Network website, the pyrolysis of PTFE begins at 200 °C (392 °F). 
Cooking fats, oils, and butter will begin to scorch and smoke at about 200 °C (392 °F), and meat is usually fried between 200–230 °C (400–450 °F), but empty cookware can exceed this temperature if left unattended on a hot burner.
A 1959 study, (conducted before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the material for use in food processing equipment) showed that the toxicity of fumes given off by the coated pan on dry heating was less than that of fumes given off by ordinary cooking oils.
I usually make this recipe with the tiny bay scallops and small shrimp, but you can probably use sea scallops and omit the shrimp if you want to. I make this on the fly and in huge amounts because I cook for seven, so forgive me for the lack of measurements.
I sauté some diced onions and garlic in butter and olive oil. When that is done, add the shrimp and scallops and cook for a minute or two. Obviously small scallops and shrimp will cook faster than the big ones – you just don’t want to overcook them. Once they are done, add the juice of a lemon or two and about a teaspoon of lemon zest. I also like to add some fresh dill if I have some on hand, otherwise I use bit of the dried stuff. Lower the heat and stir in some cream and keep stirring until it is hot. Salt and black pepper to taste. Serve over linguine and top with a pinch of chopped parsley.
I never cook with bok choy, but I guess you could chop some up and add it in whwn you cook the scallops. You could also omit the cream and/or the lemon, and just make it with a garlic butter sauce.
Scallops flambé very nicely - Pernod or Sambuca work quite well to bring out the natural sweetness. My favourite is to use an ounce or so of whisky - saute in butter about 2 minutes a side, salt and a pinch of pepper, then up to high heat and start the fireworks.
Somewhere around I have a recipe for Danish Scallops from a James Barber cookbook - I’ll see if I can find it. It’s a very light cream curry kind of thing.
Well, luckily I have PTFE-free green pan. But I was told by the fishmonger that they should be cooked on medium heat so as not to dry them out or cook them too quickly on the outside before they are done internally. But he also told me not to use butter or olive oil in favor of regular vegetable oil; advice I ignored with extreme prejudice.
ETA: And these are sounding good, but I should have added that I can’t have cow’s milk (or cream). Oddly, I’ve just developed a sensitivity to that in the past six months or so. Butter and cheese are OK but milk or cream are out, unless I can use soy milk as a substitute.
If you want a good sear, you’ll need an oil that can stand the heat. I reommend Peanut, but don’t use it regularly (not healthy) but for occaisional treats.
Use your non-stick pan, put the temp on high and watch for the oil to “ripple” outward, as if you had dropped somehtin gin the center of the pan. The sear will just stick and pull off in a regular pan, unless you have a well-seasoned cast iron, and even then it’s a toss-up.
I like to use a butter and cream sauce, with onions simmered slowly til soft and translucent in another pan. (Don’t want onion sear to compete with the delicate scallop sear.) If you want a creamy-lemon flavor add ground coriander just before serving. (like most dried herbs, Coriander is best if you grind in a mortar and pestle before using.)
I would go with Le Ministre de l’au-delà’s method but if they’re really fresh, like just off the boat, try a couple without cooking them at all. Raw scallops are delicious, sometimes I’ll chop up some scallions to go with them. The texture is different so it’s not for everyone.
We get those large, beautiful Kodiak scallops up here. Searing them and using them in a pasta dish is a favorite. Adding them to paella at the last minute, or to risotto is also a favorite. Scallops are like mushrooms in that they absorb whatever flavors are around them. Just don’t overcook them.
Your lack of a good sear could also be related to the scallops you’ve bought. If you have a choice, make sure you buy DRY scallops. Now, I don’t mean “dried” scallops. Quite often, run-of-the-mill scallops are treated with STP, sodium tripolyphosphate, which bascially keeps the scallops plump and retains more water (and gives them a longer shelf life). These are called “wet scallops.” They don’t sear very well. Dry scallops are not treated with STP and they, in my opinion, taste better and, in my experience, sear far, far more easily.
Can’t STP treated scallops be dried on paper towels?
Flambed in Pernod – Mmm!
This works better with shrimp, but it’s still god with scallops. Melt some butter – a lot of it. Add about an equal amount of sherry, and heat it up. Add enough bread crumbs to absorb the liquid but still be a little damp. Optionally, add a little lump crab meat and/or sauted shallots. Salt and pepper it. Pile it on the scallops and bake at 350 for about 18 minutes.
You’ll also find the scallops you want marketed as “natural”, meaning no phosphates. I used to get them in what resembled a paint can and they are packed only in their own juices.
You can certainly use a non-stick skillet to sear without worry. Just squirt some oil, about 1TBS(I use blended veg/olive) in the pan and allow it to get really hot.
Put the scallops in and sear them quickly on both sides until they are golden-brown crusted.
The trick is you have to basically eat them at about med rare/med on the inside. Don’t let it squick you out, either…they are best this way.
My recipe calls for seasoning the scallops with sea salt and cracked pepper, searing them, and then putting them onto a frissee salad that’s been dressed with some brown butter and truffled vinaigrette.
Didn’t really work for me. I think the problem is that so much moisture is sucked into the scallop that, as it cooks, it renders out, causing problems with the sear. I’ve gotten some browning, but not the beautiful sear I’m looking for and I get with dry scallops.