Seared Scallops with Brown Butter Caper Sauce

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.

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


  • 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 Tbsp 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.


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.

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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.

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

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

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  • 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!!


  • 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!


  • Penny

    The first picture looks like the scallops are in yellow butter sauce, not brown butter sauce.
    What an EXCELLENT recipe. 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.

  • 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!

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Pamcakes, I would use 3/4 cup of water with 2 teaspoons of lemon juice in place of the white wine in this recipe.

    • David

      Just lemon caper butter sauce


      This one is definitely a keeper! Maybe I’ll try it with cognac.

  • 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.


  • Emma

    In NYC where is the best place to buy sea scallops?

    • KD

      I would go to your nearest farmer’s market. They always have a fish stand. Or you can go to the supermarkets in Chinatown (there’s one each in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn).

  • [email protected]

    I love this plate! I also have a love affair with these beautiful scallops. I just ordered some this weekend , they are huge! The restaurant served them with leeks, asparagus and risotto.

  • Karen Nelson

    living in Sacramento….where do you purchase your scallops?
    Thank you…

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Karen, the two places I usually get scallops are Sunh Fish at V and 19th and Whole Foods at Arden and Eastern. If you haven’t been to Sunh Fish, I highly recommend it. Best quality wholesale seafood in the area.

  • Sandy S

    Scallops, butter and capers! Works for me! A glass of wine and a little spring salad and I am good to go. Thank you for the excellent instructions (as always) and the reminder to pay attention when I put the scallops in the pan. This is not the time to clean out the bottom shelf of the fridge or send a quick text! Looking forward to having yummy tender scallops. May try a few seared with coconut oil.

  • Becky

    You have inspired me, I’m going to try my hand at it this weekend! The Comments to this are so good too, all very helpful and nice! I do second the question of what to serve this with… is using the same brown butter sauce on pasta too much? Of course a fresh veggie like asparagus and some crunch bread would be amazing. Thanks so much!

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Becky, I think a little of that browned butter sauce on a side of pasta would be AWESOME.

  • Tom Landshof

    additional comments about scallops:
    There are three main varieties of scallops, sea, bay, and calico. Sea scallops available year-round look like ivory squat marshmallows about 1 inch in diameter. Bay scallops, only available late fall till mid winter, are small cork-shaped about ½ inch in diameter and are quite expensive. Calico scallops are small, less than ½ inch across and taller than they are wide, available year-round, inexpensive, and not very good. They are often sold as “bays” but are not.

    In addition to choosing the right type of scallop, you should also be aware of processing. Most scallops are dipped in a phosphate solution which extends shelf life but harms the flavor and texture and causes them to absorb water. This makes it almost impossible to brown them in a skillet as they shed liquid and steam. Unprocessed scallops, also called dry scallops, are naturally ivory or pinkish, not bright white like processed ones. Dry scallops should be just that, dry not sitting in a milky white liquid. They are sticky and flabby

  • sammy

    That’s looks absolutely amazing. Do you serve that with pasta or as a appetizer with bread. I’m think I’m salivating on my computer. :(

    • Elise Bauer

      A side of pasta with a little of the browned butter sauce drizzled over it would be great!

    • Elizabeth

      Served them with a baked potato and grilled asparagus. Perfect!

  • Mary M

    I have had excellent success making browned butter in the microwave – no hovering, so I can do something else while it browns. I use a tall 1-liter GLASS measuring vessel (mine is from IKEA and I adore it). A stick of butter generally takes 3 and a half minutes on high to brown. I would start with 3 since microwaves have varying power. It has worked every time – I have never burned it yet. If it’s not brown enough, you can put it back for a few seconds. Love it, and it makes far less mess! Oh, yes, I cover the container with a folded paper towel in case of sputtering.

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Mary, what a great idea, thank you for sharing! If you use glass or Pyrex you can easily see when the butter begins to brown, so there is less likelihood of burning it. I’ll have to try it next time.

    • Sally

      I just tried this and after a minute and a half the butter blew up, all over the top, sides and bottom of microwave. Obviously I did something wrong. But proceed with caution.