Seared Scallops with Brown Butter Caper Sauce

LentenBrown ButterScallopSeafood

Large sea scallops, seared and topped with brown butter sauce with capers and lemon zest.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

A beautifully seared scallop is a delight to behold and a pleasure to eat. It can be just a little challenging to accomplish though.

First, you need to start with good quality “dry packed” scallops, or natural scallops, not “wet packed” that are soaked in preservatives.

The scallops should be fresh and sweet smelling, not fishy, or you are buying scallops that are past their use-by date.

To get a good sear, you need a strong burner, and a relatively stick-free pan that can withstand the heat, such as a well-seasoned cast iron pan, or a hard anodized aluminum pan.

Scallops are naturally moist, so it takes high heat to sear them properly. If the heat isn’t high enough, your scallops will be overcooked and rubbery by the time they’re browned.

seared scallops brown butter caper sauce

Once you’ve mastered the technique of searing scallops, the world is your “scallop” so to speak. The scallops are perfect just as they are, with perhaps a squirt of lemon.

Or you can take them a notch higher, as we’ve done here with this sauce of browned butter, white wine, lemon zest, and capers.

The browned butter enhances the natural butteriness of the scallops, while the wine, lemon, and capers help cut through the richness of the scallops. Enjoy!

Seared Scallops with Brown Butter Caper Sauce Recipe

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 3 to 4

When shopping for scallops, choose only scallops that have a fresh, sweet smell. If they smell fishy, they're not fresh and they won't taste good.

If you have a choice, look for "dry pack" instead of "wet pack" scallops. The dry pack scallops will sear well. The wet pack ones are almost impossible to sear.

The trick to cooking scallops is to sear them on very high heat. If the heat isn't high enough, the scallops will take too long to brown, and get overcooked and rubbery.

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or canola oil
  • 1 pound sea scallops (about a dozen)*
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest

*Sea scallops are the large scallops (about 1 1/2 inches wide), different from their much smaller cousins, bay scallops.

Method

1 Brown the butter: Cut up the butter into pieces (a tablespoon each or so) and place in a stainless steel saucepan. Melt the butter on medium heat. Allow the butter to foam up and recede. Watch carefully. After a few minutes, the milk solids will form and sink to the bottom.

Once the milk solids begin to turn caramel-colored brown, the butter will have a lovely nutty aroma.

Remove from heat and pour the browned butter into a separate bowl to stop the cooking. (Pay attention! If you wait too long, you'll have blackened butter, not browned butter.) Set aside.

2 Remove "foot" and pat dry scallops: Remove the "foot" of the scallop from each scallop. (The foot is a small tough piece of meat that attaches the scallop to the shell.) Pat dry the scallops.

3 Sear the scallops on both sides on high heat: Heat the oil in a cast iron pan or hard-anodized aluminum sauté pan on high heat.

When the oil is shimmery hot, pat dry the scallops again and carefully place them in the pan, flat side down.

You may need to work in batches so you don't crowd the pan.

Once you've placed the scallops in the pan, do not move them. Allow them to sear.

Once you can see that the edges of the scallops touching the pan have browned, use tongs to turn the scallops over and sear the other side. Depending on the size of the scallops and the heat of your burner, this should take 3 to 4 minutes per side.

Once both sides are browned, remove the scallops to a warm plate, and turn off the burner.

4 Deglaze pan with white wine: Pour out the remaining oil from the pan, leaving any browned bits in the pan. Add the white wine to the pan and return the pan to the burner on high heat.

Let the wine boil and reduce until you have 2 tablespoons of liquid left in the pan.

5 Add capers, lemon zest, brown butter: Then turn off the heat, add the capers, lemon zest, and brown butter to the pan. Swirl to combine.

6 Serve scallops with sauce: Place scallops on serving plates and pour sauce over them. Serve immediately.

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Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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24 Comments / Reviews

No ImageSeared Scallops with Brown Butter Caper Sauce

Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Barbara

    I made these last night for a dinner party and it was excellent! I also did the same thing with chicken, everyone was happy. My first try with brown butter turned black, but I got it right the second time. It really kicked it up a notch. Thank you for the recipe! It’s a keeper!!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  2. Elizabeth

    I halved the recipe for smaller portions. EXCELLENT!! The acid of the capers and lemon zest balance the richness of the browned butter and elevate this recipe to an amazing level. I will make this again and again!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  3. Penny

    It is a bit confusing but I found that putting the portions of everything in their own little bowls before combining helped a lot. If you’re worried about time, it makes everything go smoothly, rather than measuring ingredients as you go along.

  4. Pamcakes

    I know it’s not ideal, but I don’t drink or keep alcohol in my home. Is there an acceptable alternative for white wine in this recipe? I know it world significantly alter the integrity of the recipe, but would like to try this without alcohol. It looks amazing!

    Show Replies (3)
  5. Joanie

    Fabulous way to serve scallops – I followed the directions exactly. Also, my appreciation to Tom Landshof for his short dissertation on scallops. After not cooking them in several years, I took the plunge and bought dry scallops at our Farmers Market. Really, this recipe is perfection.

    xxxxxyyyyy

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