Seared Scallops with Brown Butter Caper Sauce

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

seared scallops brown butter caper sauce
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
Elise Bauer

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

Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Servings 3 to 4 servings

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

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.


  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or canola oil

  • 1 pound scallops (about a dozen)

  • 3/4 cup dry white wine

  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained

  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest


  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.

    Elise Bauer
    Elise Bauer

    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.

    Elise Bauer
    Elise Bauer
  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.

    Elise Bauer
  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.

    Elise Bauer

    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.

    Elise Bauer

    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.

    Elise Bauer
    Elise Bauer
  6. Serve scallops with sauce:

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

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
377 Calories
25g Fat
8g Carbs
24g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 3 to 4
Amount per serving
Calories 377
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 25g 32%
Saturated Fat 12g 58%
Cholesterol 92mg 31%
Sodium 862mg 37%
Total Carbohydrate 8g 3%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 24g
Vitamin C 1mg 7%
Calcium 23mg 2%
Iron 1mg 5%
Potassium 396mg 8%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.