Jumbo scallops, lightly seasoned and perfectly seared make the perfect finish for this sage browned butter seared scallop pasta. It’s simply a delectable dish that makes the perfect special occasion dinner for two. With a 20 minute prep time, this one leaves you more time to spend with the one you love. Try it for birthdays, anniversaries, or celebrating life’s little special moments. I’ve included a few tips and tricks, including the difference between wet and dry scallops and why it matters to getting this dish done right.
In the four years James and I have been together, I think we have been out for Valentine’s Day dinner once. As far as I’m concerned, nothing takes romance away quicker than being surrounded by crowds of couples and rushed servers trying to hurry you through your meal to clear the table for the next reservation. I love being treated to a fancy meal as much as anyone, maybe more, but Valentine’s day is not really the day I want to do it.
Instead, I prefer whipping up something fancy but simple. Why simple? Valentine’s Day is about spending time with the one you love, not spending all day in the kitchen. You don’t need to make something elaborate to make a good impression. It just needs to taste like you put extra effort into it. In other words, it should be delicious and something you have on a rare occasion. Your favorite 30 minute meal just won’t cut it.
That’s where this browned butter sear scallop pasta comes in. The browned butter adds a toasted, nutty flavor, while the sage adds an earthy element with a hint of lemon and pepper. Together they provide an excellent compliment to the meaty scallops. Served on a bed of spaghetti or linguini, with a side of asparagus, and a bottle of Chardonnay for a perfect Valentine’s Day dinner for two.
Getting the perfect sear on a scallop is less about the technique and more about the types of scallop you purchase. When I say different types I’m not referring to sea scallops versus bay scallops; or wild versus farmed. I’m talking about dry scallops versus wet scallops. The first time I tried to make scallops I didn’t know that dry and wet were thing, but they are and a very important thing as well.
Wet scallops: these have been soaked in a bath of sodium tripolyphosphate. This solution adds moisture and extends the shelf life of the scallops. Extended shelf life means they can sit longer in case at the store and in your fridge. It also means they cost less money, because shipping isn’t as urgent. However, this solution will leak out as you cook them – resulting in a scallop that is nearly impossible to sear. It also can leave a funky aftertaste that some people (me included) can detect.
Dry scallops: these are untreated, fresh from the ocean. They will be a light beige or an off white color. They are not sitting in a milky white liquid in the case and will not have increased moisture production as you cook them. They taste much better too, with a sweetness that is incomparable to the offputting after taste of their wet counterparts. They typically cost more, but are worth it, especially if this is a meal for a special occasion.
After trying both the wet and the dry versions, I suggest only using dry scallops in the future. I am lucky enough to have Osprey Seafood, a local seafood store, nearby. If you don’t have a seafood store, Whole Foods typically carries dry scallops as well. I have never found the dry version at Safeway, my typical market, but I ask whenever I see them. Frozen scallops are an option, but only if they are clearly marked as “dry.” They will need to thaw overnight in the fridge prior to use.
If you don’t have a local option, I highly recommend the Certified Steak & Seafood Company. You can order your dry jumbo scallops straight from them. They come frozen with a 3rd party certificate guaranteeing that you are getting real scallops and not shark meat pretending to be scallops. Regardless of scallop size, look for about 1/2 pound of scallops per person for an entree sized portion and 1/3 pound for an entree.
To prep the scallops, remove the side muscle. It’s a small, tough piece of the scallop that will peel off with your fingers – no knife required. Gently pat the scallops dry and season liberally with salt and pepper.
I suggest using a large non-stick skillet for scallops. They will sear up nicely and won’t stick – a great combination. Heat the skillet over a medium-high flame, then add your oil. I prefer to use refined coconut oil. It stands up nicely to the heat, but doesn’t add any flavor to the scallops. You can also use canola oil or grapeseed oil. Avoid using olive oil or butter, as they will reach their smoke point before the scallop can properly sear.
Once the oil is hot, add your scallops. The pan will sizzle, letting you know it’s hot. If it doesn’t, pull that scallop right back out and let the pan continue to heat another 60 – 90 seconds. Once the scallops are in, do not move them. No shaking the skillet. No constantly picking them up. Just don’t do it. They need time to form that crust and cannot do it while in motion.
You will be able to tell when the scallops are ready to be flipped when you can see a brown crusty layer start to form where the scallop meets the pan as you can see in the picture below. It will take about 60 – 90 seconds per side. When you think they are ready, check the first one you put in the pan. If it has a nice, golden, crust, they are ready to flip. Repeat the same process – don’t move them – on the second side for 60 – 90 seconds.
Remove the scallops from the pan and drop the heat to medium. Pick the pan up and add the butter. It will sizzle and foam. Gently shake to move the butter around. There is enough residual heat in the pan to get this process going and removing the pan from the burner will help it to cool instead of burning the butter.
Once the bubbles start to subside and the butter smells nutty, place the pan back on the burner and add the sage. The hot oil will fry the sage and let off an amazing aroma – it should only take 30 seconds. That’s it. Pour the sage browned butter over the seared scallops and toss with the pasta and freshly grated parmesan cheese. Serve with an optional lemon wedge.
Once I figured out what I was doing wrong with my scallops – buying the wrong type, not patting them dry, moving them around in a stainless steel skillet, and using olive oil, my scallop game went from meh to fancy restaurant dinner at home in less than 20 minutes.
I like to serve this sage browned butter scallop pasta with a side of fresh baked asparagus and a bottle of California chardonnay. I’ll be serving ours with this Unoaked Chardonnay from Mer Soleil. It’s one of our most favorite chardonnays and works especially well with seafood.
I’ll be back on Friday with my Valentine’s Day dessert. It’s so good and perfect for those of us who prefer desserts that are not chocolate!
What’s your favorite way to celebrate Valentine’s Day? Chocolate or no chocolate??
Don’t forget to PIN this recipe for later!!
Sage Browned Butter Seared Scallop Pasta
- spaghetti: 2 ounces dry or 3/4 pound wet
- 1 TBSP refined coconut oil
- 1/2 pound of fresh dry scallops - side muscle removed
- 4 TBSP butter
- 6 leaves fresh sage
- kosher salt
- fresh ground pepper
- 1/4 cup grated fresh parmesan cheese
- Optional: lemon wedges
- Boil water for pasta. Make according to the package instructions.
- Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add coconut oil to the pan and allow it to melt and heat.
- While the pan is heating, pat the scallops dry and season both sides with salt and pepper.
- 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, or until a golden brown crust has formed.
- Turn the scallops over and cook an additional 60 - 90 seconds.
- Remove the scallops to a medium sized bowl and keep warm.
- Drop the heat to medium, lift pan from the burner, and add the butter.
- Constantly but gently, move the pan around while the butter sizzles, foams, and melts.
- When the foaming starts to subside add the sage, placing the pan back on the burner as needed being careful not to burn the butter.
- Let the sage fry for about 30 seconds then pour the browned butter over the scallops.
- Drain the pasta.
- Remove the scallops from the browned butter sauce.
- Add the pasta and parmesan to the browned butter sauce and toss to thoroughly combine.
- Divide the pasta in two and top with half the scallops.
- Serve with a side of asparagus and an unoaked chardonnay.