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Brown Butter Scallop Pasta

Browned butter makes everything better, including plump and delicious scallops. Perfectly pan seared scallops finished with sage browned butter and served over pasta, this Brown Butter Scallop Pasta is a delectable restaurant-quality meal you can make at home. Sounds fancy? It’s not, really, but it is oh-so-delicious! 

Brown butter scallop pasta on a white plate.

A Restaurant Quality Meal at Home

Scallops aren’t an everyday meal, at least not in my house. I save dishes like this for Valentine’s Day and other special events. James and I don’t go out often on Valentine’s Day, preferring instead to linger over our meal in the comfort and unhurried ambiance of our own home. 

Browned butter adds a toasted, nutty flavor, while the sage adds an earthy element with a hint of lemon and pepper. Together, they’re an excellent complement to meaty scallops. Served on a bed of pasta with a side of asparagus, all you need to complete the meal is a bottle of chilled Chardonnay. 

Fancy enough for a special dinner but still simple, this scallop recipe really satisfies. Ready in about 20 minutes, it’s quick enough that you can spend extra time with someone special. 

Brown butter scallop pasta on a white plate.

What You Need

A simple dish has a simple list of ingredients. If you keep a well stocked pantry, you may find that you keep everything needed for this dish on hand, with the exception of the scallops.

  • Jumbo Dry Scallops – if you are unfamiliar with scallops keep reading!
  • Spaghetti – Fettucini, angel hair pasta, or another long noodle will work well.
  • Avocado Oil – Or another oil high heat oil for searing the scallops. Refined olive oil will work, but I wouldn’t use extra virgin olive oil.
  • Salted Butter – Adds richness and, when browned, adds oodles of flavor.
  • Sage – Fresh sage to season the browned butter.
  • Parmesan cheese – Helps thicken the sauce so that it sticks to the pasta. Freshly grated for the very best flavor.
  • Salt & Pepper – Use to taste for seasoning both the scallops and the pasta.
  • Lemon wedges – Optional, but a bit of lemon really highlights the subtle flavors in this dish.

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  • large pot – for boiling pasta
  • sharp knife
  • cutting board
  • 10″ – 12″ cast iron skillet or stainless steel skillet – searing the scallops

How To Make Browned Butter Seared Scallop Pasta

Making scallop pasta is pretty simple, but things will move fairly quickly once you get started. Make sure you read through the entire recipe card and prepare your ingredients before you start cooking.

  • Start the water for the pasta and prepare the scallops. You’ll want to start the scallops once you drop the pasta in the boiling water. If this is your first time cooking scallops, I have included details below about buying and cleaning scallops.
  • Sear the scallops. Heat avocado oil in a large skillet – preferably a cast iron skillet – over medium-high heat, then sear both the top and bottom sides of the scallops to create a golden brown crust. Don’t move them while cooking. When a crust starts to form around the edges you’ll know it’s time to flip. Remove them from the pan and set them to the side.
  • Make the Sage Brown Butter. In the same pan, reduce the heat then add the butter. Swirl it around by tilting or rotating the pan until the butter sizzles, foams, and browns. Add the sage leaves and allow to fry for about 30 seconds. Return the scallops to the pan, spoon the browned butter over the scallops, then remove the scallops from the pan.
  • Drain and sauce the pasta. Drain the pasta, then add the cooked pasta and freshly grated cheese to the skillet with the browned butter. Toss to coat, cooking another minute or two to melt the cheese and reduce the sauce so that it will thoroughly coat the pasta. Season to salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve Immediately. Divide the sauced pasta between 2 plates and top with the pan seared scallops. Serve with an optional lemon wedge and a dusting of Parmesan.

What Are Scallops

Scallops are mollusks related to clams, oysters, and mussels. There are many different kinds of scallops, but the most common – at least in the USA – are small bay scallops and large sea scallops found in the deep, cold waters of the ocean.

What Kind of Scallops Do You Need

Scallops and pasta go hand-in-hand, but you need to ensure you’ve got the right scallops. For this scallop pasta recipe, you’ll want large sea scallops. But, there are two different ways to buy them, and I recommend you use dry scallops.

Dry Scallops vs Wet Scallops

Wet scallops are treated in sodium tripolyphosphate. This solution adds moisture and extends its shelf life. They’re generally not as expensive, but the fluid leaks out when cooked and makes getting a perfect sear nearly impossible. The preservatives in wet scallops can have a chemical-like taste, masking their natural sweetness. Wet scallops are best in recipes where the texture of the scallop isn’t as important. Things like seafood chowders or casseroles, or any recipe that calls for them to be baked, steamed, or poached.

Dry scallops, also called dry boat scallops, aren’t dry to the touch. Instead, the name refers to the fact that after harvesting instead of being chemically treated they are flash frozen. These scallops are more perishable and are generally more expensive, but the flash freezing process captures their flavor so well that they taste like freshly shucked scallops. When seared the natural sugars in the scallops caramelize giving you a perfectly golden brown crust. This is the type of scallop you want to use in any recipe that calls for seared scallops.

A close up of brown butter scallop pasta.

How To Buy Scallops

To purchase pan seared scallops, start at your fishmonger or local seafood specialty store. They tend to carry higher quality seafood than a typical grocery store and will be more likely to stock dry scallops. If you don’t have a local seafood store, check with your fancier grocery stores.

If you aren’t planning on using them the same day, go ahead and buy them frozen. Since dry scallops must be frozen within four hours of harvest, almost all scallops you purchase will have been frozen at some point between the sea and your kitchen. Refreezin

local grocery store. Most fish counters will sell scallops, and if not fresh, you can get good quality frozen scallops – as long as they are marked as dry scallops. When buying scallops, look for plump scallops that are milky white with smooth, not jagged edges. 

Regardless of scallop size, look for about 1/2 pound of scallops for two entree-sized portions.

How To Clean Scallops

Before you can cook scallops, you must remove the side muscle. It’s a small, tough piece of the scallop that really isn’t edible. Side muscles will peel off – no knife required. Feel around the sides of the scallop and if you find a slightly discolored bump or ridge, peel it off with your fingers.

Scallops can be very sandy, and holding them under fast-running tap water can help dislodge that sand.

Jumbo scallops on a cutting board with arrows to indicate where the side muscle is located.

How To Cook Perfectly Pan Seared Scallops

  1. Start with dry scallops (dry boat scallops) and completely pat dry with a paper towel or clean kitchen towel.
  2. Make sure your pan is hot but not smoking.
  3. Use an oil with a high smoke point, like avocado or peanut oil.
  4. Don’t move the scallops around in the pan. Let them sit until golden brown.
  5. Flip them once. They cook very quickly.
  6. Unlike a thick cut steak, it is not necessary to sear the sides of a scallop, only the top and the bottom.
  7. Scallops love lemon – a bit of fresh lemon juice, and a grind of freshly ground black pepper will accentuate their flavor.

Tips For Success

This really is an easy recipe, but here are some tips to help you make the best scallop pasta recipe ever!

  • Start your pasta water boiling before starting the browned butter scallops.
  • Cook the pasta while you’re making the scallops.
  • Don’t burn the butter! Brown butter should be dark chocolate brown but not black. If it’s black, you’ve burned the butter solids.
  • Use about ½ pound of scallops for 2 hearty portions.
A fork with pasta twined around it and half of a perfectly seared jumbo scallop on the end.

Recipe Variations

The best part about making food in your own kitchen is that you can follow the recipe as closely or as loosely as you wish. As with most recipes there are things you can successfully swap and things that you shouldn’t change if you want to get great results.

  • Try different herbs – herbs like fresh thyme, fresh parsley, and fresh basil can be fried in the brown butter like the sage, while others like cilantro and dill can be sprinkled on top just prior to serving.
  • Add a bit of spice – add one or two crushed, sliced, or minced garlic cloves in the brown butter or sprinkle a few red pepper flakes on top prior to serving.
  • Citrus zest can add a new layer of flavor – lemon zest and/or lime zest sprinkled on top of the scallops before serving can elevate this dish to a completely different flavor
  • Add Vegetables – Bulk out the dish with crisp raw vegetables like halved cherry tomatoes, tender garden fresh asparagus, or chopped cucumber.

The only hard and fast rule of this recipe is to use a high heat oil for searing your scallops. Using something that isn’t rated for high heat means that the oil may burn before the scallops cook, leaving you with off flavors in the final dish.

Serving Suggestions

One of my favorite food pairings with seafood is asparagus and a glass of white wine, and this pasta goes great with my Easy Oven Asparagus. You can serve the asparagus on the side or chop it up and put it right into the pasta while saucing it in the pan. For dessert, especially if this is a special occasion, you’ve got to try go with Lemon Crème Brûlée.

How To Store

This dish is best served hot, straight from the stovetop.

Due to food safety concerns I wouldn’t recommend keeping cooked scallops or any other cooked seafood in the fridge for more than a day or two at most. Once the pasta is combined with the scallops, the same bacteria can start to grow even if you remove the scallops before serving.

You can store any leftovers in the fridge for 1-2 days in an airtight container.

Brown butter scallop pasta on a white plate.

Brown Butter Scallop Pasta

Yield: 2 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

Brown Butter Scallop Pasta. Pan seared scallops finished with sage browned butter and served over pasta. A restaurant quality meal at home.

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces dry spaghetti
  • 1 tablespoon avocado oil
  • 1/2 pound of dry scallops
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 6 leaves fresh sage
  • kosher salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
  • Optional: lemon wedges

Instructions

  1. Make pasta according to package instructions. Clean scallops and remove side muscle.
  2. Heat avocado oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Pat the scallops dry and season both sides with salt and pepper.
  3. When the pasta has 5 minutes left to cook, arrange the scallops in a single layer, well spaced out in the hot pan. Cook 60 - 90 seconds without moving the pan until a golden brown crust has formed.
  4. Turn the scallops over and cook an additional 60 - 90 seconds. Remove the scallops to a medium sized bowl and keep warm.
  5. Drop the heat to medium and add the butter to the skillet. Constantly but gently move the pan around while the butter melt, sizzles, foams, and browns.
  6. When the foaming subsides add the sage, allowing it to fry for about 30 seconds then add the scallops back to the pan. Spoon browned butter over scallops to coat then remove back to the plate.
  7. Drain pasta then add pasta and parmesan to the skillet with the browned butter sauce, toss to combine completely.
  8. Arrange pasta on two plates and top each with half of the scallops. Garnish with additional parmesan and a squeeze of lemon if desired.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 2 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 584Total Fat: 35gSaturated Fat: 23gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 165mgSodium: 2213mgCarbohydrates: 19gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 51g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated by Nutritionix and is for general information purposes only. For the most accurate information, calculate using your select brands and exact measurements.

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More Seafood Recipes

Sara @ Life's Little Sweets

Saturday 13th of February 2016

Scallops are my favorite food, these scallops look like they could melt in my mouth.

Renee Sitavich

Tuesday 16th of February 2016

Oh they do! For a long time I didn't like them, but now I love them!

Holly @ 3 Yummy Tummies

Friday 12th of February 2016

Scallops are one of my favorite meals and these look amazingly moist and delicious! I need to find some fresh scallops ASAP!

Kaitie

Thursday 11th of February 2016

I would love these and my husband even more! These are amazing!

Manju | Cooking Curries

Thursday 11th of February 2016

I did not know about the dry and wet scallops! Will watch out for that the next time I buy them. Thank you!

Rebecca

Wednesday 10th of February 2016

I love scallops, but I don't recall ever having them in brown butter, and of course, brown butter and sage go hand in hand so this recipe is bound to be fantastic!

Renee Sitavich

Thursday 11th of February 2016

Browned butter makes everything better. I think it ranks up there with bacon.

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