When the Vineyard bay scallop harvest begins in November, everyone gets excited about eating these sweet, delicious shellfish. Smaller and quicker-to-cook than sea scallops, they really only need a couple minutes in a hot pan to brown a bit on two sides – any more than that, they’re overcooked. And you don’t want to overcook them – unless you’ve got a shellfish license, you’ll be paying a pretty penny for them.

I like to sear the scallops in a nonstick pan with just a bit of oil (or a mix of oil and a little butter). Then I take the scallops out of the pan and “deglaze” (or wash off) the yummy browned bits that have stuck to the pan with a mixture of lemon and orange juice (though you could use a mixture of white wine and lemon if you prefer. Or balsamic with a little lemon and maple — see recipe variation below ). I let the juices reduce just a bit, take the pan off the heat, and toss in cold cubes of butter which melt just enough to make a creamy sauce.

Before you even think about cooking the scallops, decide what you want to serve them over and prepare it. Serving them “over” something is just kind of natural – they like to nestle in a pillowy pile of Creamy Polenta (or Five-Minute Polenta) or some fluffy mashed potatoes. They’re equally nice over a bed of spinach or other wilted tender greens. But also, by serving the scallops over something, you get to use that pan sauce to extend the precious scallop flavor to a bigger portion of the meal.

This recipe is for only a half-pound of scallops, because I don’t like to crowd the pan. If you want to double the recipe, use two skillets or just make sure your largest skillet can hold all the scallops without crowding them. If they do wind up being crowded, turn up the heat to help them brown before they steam through.

Serves 2

  • 2 to 3 teaspoons grapeseed or other neutral oil (or olive oil) – just enough to cover the bottom of the pan
  • ½ pound fresh bay scallops, side muscle removed
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Juice of ½ medium lemon
  • Juice of ½ medium orange
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 teaspoon citrus zest (from either the lemon or orange or both)
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley or chives for garnish

For serving:

Cooked creamy polenta (or Five-Minute Polenta), mashed potatoes, rice, sautéed spinach or mushrooms, roasted squash or whatever you like.


1. In a medium nonstick skillet, heat the oil (enough to just cover the bottom of the pan) over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the scallops to the pan (they should have room around them) and season them with salt and freshly ground pepper.

2. Let the scallops brown on the bottom (just 1 to 2 minutes), then flip (silicone-tipped tongs or a silicone spatula works well for this) and brown on the other side, about 1 minute. Transfer the scallops to a warm plate. Lower the heat to medium-low.

3. Combine the lemon and orange juice and add it to the pan. (Tip: At this point lift the pan up off the heat as the juices will bubble and simmer down quickly…let the pan cool for a few seconds and return it to the heat.) As the juices reduce (it will not take long for them to boil down to a couple tablespoons, which is what you’re aiming for), scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Remove the pan from the heat, add the cold butter cubes, and stir until they melt and make a creamy sauce. Stir in the zest and the herbs.

4. Transfer the scallops to two serving dishes, arranging them on whatever you’re serving them with, and drizzle and scrape all of the pan sauce over the scallops. Serve right away.


Susie Middleton

Mushroom, Shallot & Balsamic Butter Variation

Here's a variation that both tweaks the flavor profile of the sauce - and adds a few sautéed vegetables into the mix.

Follow the directions above with three changes:

1) replace the lemon and orange juice with 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon citrus juice of any kind, and 1 teaspoon maple syrup.

2) Ahead of time, slice and sauté a handful of cremini mushrooms, 2 shallots, and a handful of slivered brussels sprouts or another winter green (such as tat soi leaves shown in the photo) in a little butter, just until lightly browned. Set those aside.

3) Once you have browned the scallops on the first side, flip them and add the sautéed veggies into the pan. Stir and toss the veggies and scallops together until the veggies are heated through and the scallops are just cooked, about 1 minute. Finish the recipe (removing the scallops and veggies to a warm plate), following the directions above to make the pan sauce, being sure to whisk in the cold butter at the end.