14 Ways To Add More Flavor To Scallops

Cooking scallops at home might be one of those things that just seems like it's way out of most people's wheelhouses — especially considering how often Gordon Ramsay screams about scallops to hapless "Hell's Kitchen" contestants. What chance do the rest of us have if they can't get it right?

The pressure must be getting to them because scallops aren't that difficult and are easy to tell when they're done. A pan, a few ingredients, and three minutes on each side, and they're done. And that's the key: Done right, they have an amazing, crispy-on-the-outside, buttery-on-the-inside texture and a flavor that's sure to please even the biggest seafood skeptics. Scallops are perfectly fine when they're fried up with no extra help, but because they lack that fishy flavor that so much seafood comes with, they're an ideal canvas for something more. Like what? That's what we're going to talk about. It's super easy to add a kick of flavor to your scallops, and you might just find that it's so easy, they're going to be added to your weekly meal rotation.

Be sure to brine them first

The first step to adding flavor to your scallops is to make sure no unwanted flavors are lingering, and here's where scallops can get tricky. Naysayers who skip right over them even when they're on a restaurant's menu might complain that they taste like soap, and it's a legit concern. Some scallops are treated with a chemical before they're frozen, which serves as whitening and preservative. Unfortunately, these are the scallops you're most likely to get at a grocery store, but that just means you should be taking an extra step in the cooking process.

Your scallops will taste better with one easy step: Soaking them for just 10 minutes in a brine solution will help flush out that chemical  (and the soapy taste), and help guarantee that when you bite into those scallops, you're only tasting the flavor you want. Since the brine is just a simple solution of salt and water, there's no pre-planning necessary for this, although there is a footnote. To ensure you're still going to get that lovely crust, thoroughly pat the scallops dry before putting them into the pan. Cook as desired, and know that you're going to be getting the brightest, freshest flavor you can.

They're always better with bacon

There's a saying that everything is better with bacon, and we think that's absolutely true. Can you name a food that isn't taken to the next level with bacon? Even chocolate chip cookies and ice cream have gotten the bacon treatment, and when it comes to scallops, you're definitely going to be whipping up something next-level if you decide to go the bacon-wrapped route.

The trick to truly delectable bacon-wrapped scallops is to cook the bacon just part of the way and baste the scallops with the bacon fat before baking them. Right, so no one ever said that there was anything super healthy about this, but, sometimes, you just deserve a bacon-wrapped dinner. And here's the brilliant thing about this: There's a lot of this idea that's fairly hands-off, so that makes it an ideal appetizer to whip up alongside something else. It's also just as great as a main course, served with something like risotto or pasta. Don't feel like digging out the bacon? You can also make a flavorful scallop by wrapping them in prosciutto. This one is a little lighter because you're not going to be using all that bacon fat, but, let's be honest, anything made with bacon fat is delicious.

Experiment with vadouvan

First of all, what is vadouvan? Simply put, it's a spice mix that can vary depending on what brand and variety you get, but there are some core, must-have ingredients. Vadouvan is a French-in-origin, Indian-in-spirit spice blend that contains core ingredients like garlic, cumin, turmeric, coriander, and onion, along with up to a dozen other spices and seasonings. What do we mean by French-in-origin, Indian-in-spirit? When the French colonized parts of southeast India, they took the idea of curry, toned it down for European tastes, and essentially created a mild version of curry, and now you can use vadouvan to make Indian food at home.

This super-versatile ingredient might be one of the easiest ways to add a whole new dimension to scallops. All that you really need to do is press each side of the (very dry) scallops into the spice mix, pan-fry, and serve. Just be sure to wear gloves, vadouvan tends to stick to your skin. Serve these when you have a few friends over for dinner, and it's guaranteed to be your signature dish. Don't want to give away your secret, and let on to the fact that it's super easy? Call them Golden Scallops in a nod to your secret ingredient, and we won't tell if you don't.

Serve scallops with dashi

While seeing scallops on a plate might be the norm, there's a brilliant way to cook and serve them that increases the flavor infinitely. For that, we're going to look at Japanese cuisine and dashi. What is dashi? The simplest description is that it's a broth, but it's so much more than that.

This idea comes with two steps, and one is to pan-sear the scallops as usual, and then — instead of just putting them on a plate — serve them in a bowl with dashi. That sounds incredibly straightforward, and it is. At the same time, scallops in dashi have almost endless possibilities, because dashi can be made in a variety of ways. It's a very stock-like ingredient, but instead of coming mainly in chicken, beef, and vegetable varieties, dashi can be made from ingredients like (but not limited to) mushrooms, sardines, soybeans, bonito flakes, seaweed, shrimp, and adzuki beans. No matter what kind of dashi you use, you'll be adding something invaluable to your scallops: umami. And that? That makes it a total win.

Reach for the grapefruit

Winter comes with a lot of dismal things. There's the stress of the holidays, the long nights, the bad weather... but, as if to make up for all of that, it's also grapefruit season. And grapefruit isn't just a brilliant breakfast or addition to cocktails, but it's also just what you need to give your scallops a dash of flavor.

The idea of cooking scallops with grapefruit admittedly sounds a little weird, but it shouldn't. It works because acidic ingredients serve to bring out the flavor in scallops really well, and grapefruit isn't just acidic. It has a flavor unlike anything else. Grapefruit takes the bitter citrus of lemon and adds a sweet tanginess that, while it's a love-or-hate sort of thing, adds a much-desired layer of freshness to the scallops. You can definitely get creative, too, because there are plenty of options to add along with that grapefruit. A dash of honey or brown butter will add some sweetness while adding meat like bacon or prosciutto will round out the flavor even more.

Go Cajun

If there's one thing that we like more than a recipe that turns something ordinary into something extraordinary, it's a tip or trick that does that with minimal effort and no extra dishes. If that's the case in your kitchen, Cajun-spiced scallops served with pasta are a dish for you.

Although we wholeheartedly recommend serving these scallops with creamy Cajun pasta, that's definitely not a requirement. What is a requirement is the Cajun seasoning, which makes this neat little trick super easy. Before pan-searing your scallops, just make sure they're dry, then press each side into the seasoning. Cook as you normally would, and all that delicious flavor from the blackened spices will turn those scallops into a dish that's worth writing home about. Seriously — it's the sort of thing that makes a meal into the sort of thing that gets requested for special occasions, and you don't have to tell anyone that it's easy enough to make on a Wednesday night.

You can't go wrong with a creamy garlic sauce

Scallops don't always have to stand on their own, and for a delicious, hearty meal that's perfect for an autumn evening, look no further than scallops in a creamy garlic sauce. This is especially brilliant if you're craving scallops but can't find any fresh ones — since frozen scallops are generally smaller, they lend themselves wonderfully to this dish. Lemon is a must, and with just a dash of white wine, it's the kind of meal that makes you feel just a little bit classy... even though you can throw it together in around 15 minutes. Looking for something to serve for an impromptu date night? Look no further.

That creamy garlic sauce isn't just amazing over the scallops, either, and you can definitely opt to serve this one up with a little pasta on the side. We'd even argue that this is a great way to use up leftover pasta because as the scallops can be filling on their own, there's no need to cook up a massive batch.

Get creative with this staple Japanese ingredient

One of the best things about scallops is that they lend themselves to being a vehicle for all different kinds of flavors, and they also give plenty of opportunities for using ingredients that might not be an everyday sort of thing for many people. One such ingredient is koji, a traditional ingredient in Japanese cuisine that's getting traction in other parts of the world.

What is koji? Mold, but not in a bad way. Koji is made through a series of fermentation processes that involve growing the mold on grains, rice, or beans, then turning it into the final product. Like so many Japanese ingredients, koji adds a delicious depth of flavor that's known as umami, and, while it's hard to describe, it's the sort of thing that elevates whatever is on the plate. When it comes to scallops, it's pretty easy to use koji either alone or alongside other ingredients. Why? Because it starts with using the koji to cure the scallops in the fridge for a few hours or even a few days prior to cooking. While that means this is going to take some planning ahead, it's absolutely worth it — and it might just mean koji will become a regular feature in your kitchen.

Take some advice from Andrew Zimmern

Andrew Zimmern might be famous for eating some of the most unique foods from around the world, and there's no denying that for many American palates, the idea of serving up some of them is probably not going to go over too well. But there's one unique food that Zimmern lauded as one of the best meals he'd ever had, and it's one that you will want to replicate in your own kitchen.

Zimmern says that there's one meal in particular that he'll never be able to have again. He was filming with a group of people native to the coastline of Samoa when he was fortunate enough to take part in one of their scallop harvests... and this wasn't an ordinary scallop. This was a once-a-year harvesting of a giant scallop weighing more than 100 pounds, and while that's not something you'll be able to do at home, you can take their advice on preparation methods.

The scallops were prepared simply with a dash of coconut water and some calamansi, which is a citrus fruit that combines the tartness of lemon with the sweetness of oranges... and has a little bit of lime flavor thrown in for good measure. The scallops were eaten raw, so on the night you're feeling a little adventurous, take a page out of Zimmern's travel guide and try out this unique flavor combination.

Lemon is a natural fit for scallops

Let's say you went out of your way to pick up some really nice scallops. They're super-fresh, they're bigger than you thought scallops could be, and they were packaged up by the fishmonger who handed them over along with the advice to use them straight away. Those are the kind of scallops that you don't want to lose beneath a heavy sauce or seasoning, and in this case, a dash of lemon is the perfect way to add some flavor without overpowering the scallops themselves.

In fact, the simplest seared scallops call just for a quick seasoning with some salt and pepper, then a quick sear in the pan to that perfect doneness. And then? Grab a lemon, slice it into wedges, and serve those wedges on the side. Squeeze a dash of lemon before eating, and it doesn't get much closer to the ocean than that. You can also do scallops in an air fryer, and adding just a bit of lemon with some Italian seasoning all but guarantees a delicious meal in just a few minutes. Looking to add something a little more substantial? Serve over pasta, alongside risotto, or with a three-bean salad, and you're not going to go wrong.

Add a honey glaze

Everyone needs to add a little sweetness to their lives, right? Scallops might be a savory meal, but adding a sweet honey glaze is an amazing way to not only add some flavor, but an incredible texture, too.

Honey-glazed scallops are easier than they sound. They're made simply by pan-searing the scallops as usual, then caramelizing some honey in the same pan and adding the scallops back in for just long enough to coat them. Because this method of cooking scallops is so wonderfully sweet, pairing this with some vegetables on the side is absolutely the way to go — and since the veg is going to be sharing the spotlight, get creative. If you've never made tempura-battered Brussels sprouts (or green beans) before, this is the perfect time to try. Mix up a three-bean salad with jalapeños and lime for something cold and refreshing on those hot summer days, or go with a hot green bean and potato salad if you're looking for something a little warmer. Either way, they'll share the spotlight and compliment these sweet, caramelized scallops.

Reach for the alcohol

Let's be honest here, there's not that much that's super fun about being an adult. There's a merciless amount of laundry that always has to be done, there are always errands that need to be run, and there's always an ever-growing list of chores that are waiting for attention. The good news is that there is one thing that's pretty cool about being a grown-up, and that's the chance to cook with alcohol (and perhaps while partaking in a little cocktail on the side while you do).

Some of the best and easiest recipes for pan-seared scallops involve adding a splash of white wine to the pan. White wine and scallops go together like peanut butter and jelly, but that's not the only option. Scallops made with a splash of whiskey added to the pan at the end of cooking deglazed, then put back over the heat can make for a fun and flavorful meal, especially when paired with fruit like blueberries. You could also opt for serving up scallops in a cream sauce elevated with a dash of beer — preferably your favorite IPA. And if you're going to all the trouble to make scallops, consider picking up a bottle of wine to go with them. Depending on how you're making them — and how you're kicking the flavor up a notch — you might want to pick up a dry Chardonnay, a Spanish white wine, a Champagne, or even a fruity rosé.

Butter, butter, and more butter

Done right, scallops have a wonderful texture — and we all know that part of a winning meal is texture. And that's where butter comes in. Not only does it add flavor, but buttery scallops will always be a win, hands-down.

The easiest way to do this results in scallops that taste like way more effort went into them than you spent. For pan-seared scallops in brown butter, cook them to get that sear on one side, then add the butter and spoon over them as they're cooking on the other side. Easy, right? It also lends itself well to the addition of herbs. Prep the butter by simmering with some thyme ahead of cooking your scallops, or serve up some buttery scallops with a creamy dill sauce. Do you love flavored butter? This is a great opportunity to use that, too. Dig out the herb-filled butter, or the butter infused with chilis for a sneaky heat that's bound to please.

Coffee on scallops? Absolutely

Here's something fun to look to for a meal when you want to pull out all the stops: Seared scallops in coffee dust, with a coffee vinaigrette. Now, admit it: You just went, "What?" and then, "Ohhh," right? The coffee dust is instant coffee, and it's mixed into an olive oil vinaigrette that's made to be drizzled over the veg you're going to serve alongside your scallops (we like asparagus!). It's also sprinkled over the cooked and buttered scallops at the very end, right before serving. All that coffee goodness, melting into the hot scallops? Sounds divine, right? Not only is it divine, but it'll have guests asking for your secrets.

We have one more recommendation for this meal, too. Whether you're making it for a special date night or just an everyday meal, it's a great reason to finish dinner off with one of those coffee cocktails you love, but might not always think of making. Try a White Russian, reach for the rum and mix up a Carajillo, or turn that cocktail into a dessert with a chocolatey mudslide. Life's tough: Treat yourself.

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