If you have the time, place them in the refrigerator the night before. They’ll slowly thaw overnight and will be ready whenever you’re ready to cook them the next day.
To thaw them quickly, place them in a bowl of cool water (make sure they’re in their original bag, or transfer them to a resealable plastic bag that is very well-sealed so there’s no leakage). Change the water a couple of times – about every ten minutes – until they’re completely thawed. Depending on how many scallops you’re thawing and how big they are, it should take roughly half an hour.
Whatever you do, don’t place them on the counter at room temperature. The resulting texture won’t be appealing and you’ll basically be ruining them before you even begin cooking.
How to cook scallops
Here are some “rules” that apply no matter what scallop recipe you’re using:
As with all seafood, buy it frozen. Most of us don’t have access to seafood that’s truly fresh (as in just caught and fresh off the boat; if you do, then, of course, buy it fresh). Almost all seafood is frozen when caught then shipped to the store for purchase. This means that the seafood you’re buying at the counter has already been frozen once – yet you have no idea when it was thawed and how long it’s been sitting since. If you buy your seafood frozen, you’re in control of when it’s thawed and for how long it sits before it hits your skillet.
Buy “dry” scallops if you can. Dry scallops haven’t been soaked in a solution to help preserve them so they’re more flavorful. They’re also much easier to get a good sear because they won’t release as much water when cooking.
Don’t overcook them. They should be deeply browned on each side but still slightly opaque in the center – anything more and they lose flavor and that tender texture that makes scallops so appealing.
How to cook frozen scallops
My best answer here is just don’t do it. Why cook scallops from frozen and risk over or undercooking them when they’re so simple to thaw? See above for how to thaw your scallops quickly if you’re in a pinch.
How to pan-sear scallops
Crank up the heat. You want a nicely browned “crust” on each side of the scallop which only a screaming hot pan will achieve.
As with all foods you’re trying to brown (sear), don’t overcrowd your pan or they’ll steam instead of sear. Work in batches if necessary.
Another trick to getting a good sear is to pat them dry with a paper towel before cooking.
Use clarified butter instead of oil when searing; the flavor will be much better! Clarified butter – also known as “ghee” – allows you to cook over high heat without the butter burning. Adding an oil with a higher smoke point – such as canola or vegetable – to regular butter will work, too, but clarified butter is your most delicious bet.
If you attempt to flip your scallops (and they should be flipped just once) and they resist – leave them alone. They’re ready to be turned when they release on their own. Trying to force them will only rip them and they won’t be seared as they should.
How to grill scallops
Once again, don’t flip them until they’re ready. If your grill is hot enough, the scallops will brown quickly enough to be flipped in time to cook the other side without overcooking them.
Grease your grates very well. The last thing you want is for them to stick and rip when you try to flip them.
Consider using skewers. This makes the scallops much easier to flip. And, since you can flip many at once, you reduce the risk in overcooking them.
How to broil scallops
Place your pan just a few inches from the heat source. You want your them to brown well on the top before they’re cooked perfectly on the inside. But watch them closely so they don’t burn!
Again, grease your pan well, especially if you’re flipping them. You want them to stay in one piece, which won’t happen if they’re sticking.
Use sea scallops since they’re larger and won’t overcook before they get a nicely browned top.
How to bake scallops
Baking is arguably the easiest way to cook your scallops, especially if you’re new to the process. You don’t have to do any flipping or guesswork since good scallop recipes will have clear instructions for how long to bake.
If you still want the crispy top after baking, run your dish under the broiler for a few minutes.
53 Scallop Recipes for broiling, baking, grilling, and pan-searing. Plus eight side dish recipes that pair wonderfully!
Kristy Bernardo is the recipe creator behind The Wicked Noodle. She's a five-time cookbook author, has taught cooking classes to both kids and adults, and has been creating recipes for nationwide brands since 2009. She learned most of her cooking skills from her mom and grandmother, then honed those skills at boot camp at the Culinary Institute of America.