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Cooking 101: Pan-Seared Scallops (And How To Make Perfect Browned Butter)

I love when a simple, basic ingredient can – with a little technique – be elevated into something extraordinary.

Browned butter is that thing.

If you’ve never used it in cooking or baking, drop whatever it is you’re doing and grab a stick of butter. Seriously.

If butter makes everything better (it does, right?), then browned butter makes it transcendent. Browning butter brings out a rich, nutty, heavenly flavor that – while subtle – makes a tremendous difference in so many sweet and savory recipes.

Making browned butter is not difficult, but there are a few tricks to ensuring success, which I’m sharing with you today in one of my favorite recipes – sweet sea scallops in an herbed brown butter sauce.

This is one of those fabulous dishes that’s “dinner-party” worthy,  but quick and easy enough for a busy weekday night.

Let’s get cooking!

  • Pan-Seared Scallops With Brown Butter Sauce! 1 of 8
    pan seared scallops perfect browned butter

    This dish marries two of my favorite things - pan seared scallops and browned butter - in an easy, yet impressive dish that will become a staple in your mealtime repertoire!

  • Thoroughly Dry the Scallops 2 of 8
    pan seared scallops with brown butter sauce

    To make perfectly seared scallops they need to be very, very dry. Pat with paper towels till there is no moisture left, and season generously with salt and pepper.

  • Prep Your Ingredients 3 of 8
    pan seared scallops with brown butter sauce

    Cut the butter into equal pieces, so that it melts evenly. Brown butter is best made in a pan with a light-colored bottom, so that you can easily watch the color develop.

  • Begin Whisking As Soon As Butter Is Melted 4 of 8
    pan seared scallops with brown butter sauce

    As soon as the butter is completely melted, begin whisking. The moment you see brown solids forming at the bottom of the pan, remove from heat (for the scallops recipe I quickly sauteed the shallots at this point, and then removed from heat).

  • Continue Whisking! 5 of 8
    pan seared scallops with brown butter sauce

    Once off the heat, continue whisking, as the butter will continue to cook. It will get deeper in color and will develop a rich, nutty aroma. You now have perfect brown butter!

  • Perfectly Pan-Seared Scallops 6 of 8
    pan seared scallops with brown butter sauce

    In addition to starting with scallops that have been thoroughly dried, it's important to not overcrowd the pan when cooking. Overcrowding causes the scallops to steam, and prevents that beautiful browned crust from forming. Work in two batches, and don't turn the scallops until they release easily from the bottom of the pan.

  • Store For Later! 7 of 8
    pan seared scallops with brown butter sauce

    Once you try this recipe you will want to use brown butter on - or in - just about everything! And the good news is that it stores beautifully - for up to two weeks refrigerated, even longer if frozen.

    Let it cool completely before storing. You can then store it "as is" - browned bits and all - or...

  • How to Strain Brown Butter 8 of 8
    pan seared scallops with brown butter sauce

    ...if you prefer, you can strain the bits out. Simply line a mesh strainer with cheesecloth and pour the butter into a small dish. Store it covered in the fridge, or freeze in an ice cube tray.

Read more from Sheri on Donuts, Dresses and Dirt
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Pan-Seared Scallops in Brown Butter Sauce
adapted from Handle the Heat

For the brown butter sauce:
4 T. unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 small shallot, minced
1 T. minced fresh parsley
1/2 t. minced fresh sage
2 t. fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper

For the scallops:
1 1/2 lbs. large sea scallops, tendons removed and patted very dry
Salt and pepper
2 T. vegetable oil, divided
2 T. unsalted butter, divided

Make the sauce:
Heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until brown bits form on the bottom of the pan. Add the shallot and cook for 30 seconds. Remove pan from heat and continue whisking till the butter turns a deep golden brown, with a rich, nutty aroma. Stir in the parsley, sage and lemon juice; season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover the saucepan with a lid to keep warm.

Make the scallops:
Sprinkle the dry scallops with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat 1 T. of the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add half of the scallops in a single layer and cook, without moving, until well browned. You’ll know it’s time to flip when they release easily from the bottom of the pan.

Add 1 T. of the butter to the skillet. Carefully flip the scallops and continue to cook until the sides of the scallops are firm and the centers are opaque, 1-2 minutes. Remove the scallops to a plate and tent loosely with foil. Wipe out the skillet and repeat cooking with the remaining oil, scallops, and butter. Serve immediately with browned butter sauce.

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