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Pan Seared Scallops with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

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This is a seafood dish that can be thrown together quickly and yet tastes like you spent the entire afternoon in the kitchen. The briny, sweet flavor of the sea scallops is reinforced by the natural sweetness of the roasted red peppers that form the sauce. The scallops of pan seared for a couple minutes right after preparing the sauce and cooking the pasta resulting in a meal that can be prepared in thirty minutes.

Start with 1-1/2 to 2 pounds of sea scallops. Clean the scallops by removing the small, tough muscle found on one side of each scallop (see picture below). If you don't peel off this piece from the scallop, then you'll have an extremely tough and chewy piece attached to your tender scallops after cooking.

Now, assemble the rest of the ingredients. Core three red bell peppers. Cut them in half and press down flat (with the skin facing up) onto a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil. Also, gather together 8 oz. sour cream, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, and a little bit of lemon zest. I also reserved a few sprigs of parsley for garnishing.

Start bringing four quarts or more of water to a boil. While the water is coming to a boil, we'll roast the peppers.

In the past, we've roasted peppers on the grill, but, since it's winter, we'll roast them under the broiler in the oven. Place the sheet pan with the peppers on a rack in the highest position. If your rack doesn't reach high enough (the peppers should be within 2 inches of the broiler), invert another sheet pan and place that on the rack first to raise the level of the peppers. Broil until the surface of the peppers bubble and then turn black, about 15 minutes. Rotate the pan as necessary for even roasting.

After the peppers are done roasting, stack the peppers and fold the aluminum foil over to seal the peppers in and steam them. Steam the peppers for five to ten minutes before peeling the skins off.

Once the water comes to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt to the water along with a pound of fettucini. Remember to stir the fettucini when ever you get a chance to avoid clumping.

In a large skillet, melt 4 Tbs. butter over low heat, then turn up the heat to medium until the foaming subsides.

Once the butter is brown and smells rich and nutty, place a single layer of scallops on the skillet and allow them to sear for about 2 minutes. If your scallops are truly fresh, then they should sear beautifully without releasing moisture faster than it can evaporate. Unfortunately, most scallops sold in the supermarkets are presoaked in water to give them a more uniform look at the store (and to increase the weight of each scallop for better profits). To big downside to the soaked scallops is that they don't cook well. The water tends to run out of the scallop and we end up either steaming or braising the scallops. If this is happening, remove the scallops from the pan after the first side is done cooking and allow much of the moisture to boil off before returning the scallops to the pan (with the raw side down). Sear the uncooked side of the scallops another 2 minutes. Our objective is to have the scallop turn opaque on the two flat sides, but leave a translucent center - medium rare. If we cooked them any longer, the scallops would turn stringy and lose a little bit of their natural flavors.

While you are pan searing the scallops, remove and discard the skin from the red peppers. Place the peppers into a bar blender and blend until they have been fully pureed. Now add the sour cream, salt, cayenne pepper, parsley, and lemon zest. You can also add a squirt of lemon juice to heighten the flavors. Blend until fully integrated and set aside.

As soon as the pasta is cooked to al dente, ladle out a 1/4 cup of the pasta water into a bowl or cup. Pour the rest of the pasta water (and the pasta) into a colander and return the pasta to the pot. Toss the pasta with the reserved pasta water to help prevent excessive clumping. Serve the pasta with scallops and sauce spooned on top. If desired, garnish with a sprig of parsley and a couple wedges of lemon.

Pan Seared Scallops with Quick Roasted Red Pepper Sauce (serves four)
Pan Seared Scallops
4 Tbs. (55 g) buttermeltbrownsear 2 min.flip, sear 2 min.
1-1/2 to 2 lb. (680 to 900 g) sea scallops

Quick Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
3 red bell peppersroastpeelpureeblend
8 oz. (230 g) sour cream
1/4 teaspoon (2 g) salt
1/4 teaspoon (0.5 g) cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon (4 g) chopped parsley
pinch of lemon zest
Copyright Michael Chu 2004
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Written by Michael Chu
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36 comments on Pan Seared Scallops with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce:(Post a comment)

On November 21, 2005 at 05:50 PM, Michael (guest) said...
Do you think using canned roasted red peppers are acceptable? What style would be ideal?

On November 21, 2005 at 05:50 PM, Doug (guest) said...
Oof... never could bring myself to try molluscs. The red pepper sauce sounds good, though.

As far as roasted red peppers go, they're so easy to do, it's almost not worth the flavor you lose by buying water-packed ones. Once they're roasted, the skin pretty much peels off effortlessly.

On November 21, 2005 at 05:51 PM, Michael Chu said...
re: canned red peppers

It is possible to use canned red peppers. Make sure you drain them so you don't introduce additional water into the sauce. You might need to augment the flavor of the sauce with additional spices.

You can also roast a bunch of red peppers (when they go on sale) and then freeze them for use later after removing the skin and sealing in freezer bags.

On November 21, 2005 at 05:51 PM, an anonymous reader said...
I love your blog Michael. I read it every day. Keep up the great work! Also, the photographs are excellent. I think you mentioned it as one of your other hobbies and I'm slowly (haven't had much time to invest it in as I have with food and computers) getting into that as well.

Just today I was saying to myself, "wow, a lot of the photos on this site are very well composed and a good number of them look like professional food photography." Today's scallop photos are a great example of that in my opinion. Nice looking photos.

On November 21, 2005 at 05:52 PM, spottiswoode (guest) said...
Hi Michael, thanks for this post. I've been wanting to cook seared scallops for a while now. The red pepper sauce looks really good!

On November 21, 2005 at 05:52 PM, an anonymous reader said...
The idea of roasting the peppers on foil and then steaming them in it is ingenious. Every other recipe for RRP has you roasting right on the pan and then steaming in a paper or plastic bag. The problem is you end up having to scrape hot peppers off the tray and trying to get them into the bag before they cool too much.
Your way makes so much sense. Thanks.

On November 21, 2005 at 05:53 PM, Rex Price (guest) said...
I found your site today while researching Google for "professional food photography" and was so impressed with the recipe that I put our 18 month old son in the radio flyer wagon and pulled him to the store to buy fresh scallops for dinner tonight. It was so delicious! The roasted red pepper sauce was sweeter than I anticipated and I don't think I waited long enough for the pan to get sufficiently hot to brown the scallops as much as you did, but we really enjoyed it.

Thank you for sharing,

On November 21, 2005 at 05:53 PM, an anonymous reader said...
I loved your web page and thought the photos were great, it inspired me to cook for this evenings dinner. I will be using a jar of marinated red peppers as I dont have time to shop, so hopefully it will be tasty. Thanks

On November 22, 2005 at 10:43 PM, nondescriptboy (guest) said...
Subject: method without an oven
if you don't have an oven (rare here in korea), do you think it would work to just roast the peppers directly on a gas burner and then steam them briefly in a steamer set up (bamboo or otherwise) before peeling off the skins and continuing your recipe?

On November 23, 2005 at 02:51 AM, Michael Chu said...
Subject: Re: method without an oven
nondescriptboy wrote:
if you don't have an oven (rare here in korea), do you think it would work to just roast the peppers directly on a gas burner and then steam them briefly in a steamer set up (bamboo or otherwise) before peeling off the skins and continuing your recipe?

Yep, you can roast them over the burner and then toss them into a paper bag or something else you can seal them in to self steam.

On March 14, 2006 at 05:33 PM, Lennyatthemill (guest) said...
Subject: Scallop Recipe
Great photos. Sounds good. Those muscles you remove before cooking are really a treat raw as a snack while making the peppers.. They are not tough before they are cooked. Only eat them if you are sure the scallops are fresh (not a bad way to check for freshness). Day scallops also are better for browning.

On May 29, 2006 at 06:17 PM, Mike (guest) said...
Subject: Re Pepper Sauce
I put my Red Peppers in a toaster oven on broil came out great quick and easy.

On June 29, 2006 at 08:49 PM, snyder (guest) said...
Subject: substitutions/alternatives
I used a jar of roasted red peppers with oregano and garlic. I drained them well to keep it from getting too runny. It worked well and tasted great. The extra spices in the peppers added some nice flavor.

On July 14, 2006 at 05:18 AM, Calvin (guest) said...
Subject: Well done?
After being inspired by reading this recipe, I have been watching and waiting for scallops to go on sale at the super market. So far, I have made pan seared scallops twice.

I think I really needed to cook the scallops a lot longer the first time I tried this because I didn't think medium-rare scallops were that great. The second time I did this, I cooked them pretty much all the way through and I thought it was awesome! I guess I prefer scallops well done.

By the way, the red pepper sauce is awesome too!

On August 14, 2006 at 08:17 PM, Guada (guest) said...
Subject: Sauce
I tried the roasted pepper sauce with spaghetti and it was great. (I also added some grounded turmeric).

On November 05, 2006 at 03:34 PM, Lintballoon said...
Subject: Bitterness in Scallops
I love scallops, but sometimes when I make them they are somewhat bitter. I expect the sweet taste they have when I get them from a restaurant. I know better than to over cook them. What am I doing wrong? Are they simply old, or are the reacting to whatever I am cooking them with (lemon or lime). I asked the person at the fish counter and he looked at me like I had two heads.

On November 05, 2006 at 05:41 PM, an anonymous reader said...
I have the same problem, lintballoon! I hope someone will address this so I can figure out what to do differently.

On November 11, 2006 at 06:20 PM, enzgrrl (guest) said...
Subject: bitterness in scallops
My guess is that the bitterness comes from the sodium tripolyphosphate that's used for processing "wet" scallops. It's well worth the effort and expense to find "dry" (unprocessed) scallops.
If your scallops are processed and will be too wet to sear, try coating them with ground dried mushrooms before cooking to make a flavorful crust.
I have also taken to slicing my scallops in half horizontally, making two thin discs. This speeds cooking, increases the surface area that's browned, and stretches an expensive ingredient.

On November 12, 2006 at 03:17 PM, Lintballoon said...
Subject: Bitterness in Scallops
I like the idea of using dried mushrooms for a crust.
Back to the sodium tripolyphosphate, can some of that be removed by soaking in fresh water? (I do think this could be the culprit, because if I buy them from Shaws, a local chain grocery store, that is when I fail to get good sweet scallops. If I buy them from the fish market they usually come out well. Of course they cost $15.00 a pound there)
Thanks for your advice.

On November 30, 2006 at 02:59 PM, Anne (guest) said...
Subject: Julia recommends...
Julia Child recommends dropping the scallops into boiling water for just a minute, draining, patting dry, then searing them to keep them from "releasing their liquid" into the pan. I haven't tried that yet, but am wondering if it harms their flavor?

On April 05, 2007 at 12:43 AM, ChefButtercup (guest) said...
Subject: Scallops
Scallops are soaked in milk at the restaurant and patted dry on papertowel before searing. I'm sure it is done to plump them up a bit, but it also helps with the flavour. Coconut milk works to if you like.

I love the tinfoil step, any little trick to make clean up easier. I was reading the bun recipe earlier just before I was about to roll out some dough and was inspired by your picture using the silpat. I can't believe I haven't seen that somewhere before! Ingenius. Thank-you for your great site. I am going to read more now...

On June 27, 2007 at 06:28 PM, appreciative reader (guest) said...
Thanks for your great site, Michael.

When I recently pan-seared scallops that were very fresh (without any chemical or fishy smell) - I had a hard time getting rid of the scallop smell in my house after. The scallops turned out sublime, but the lingering odor (for almost 2 days !) is really off-putting. As an engineer, can you recommend a way to avoid this in the future?

I used the overhead fan on my stove whie sauteeing, but even it seems to smell of scallops, and my husband thinks we polluted the air-conditioner filter! It has been ages since I pan-seared scallops, and now I remember why.

On August 13, 2007 at 02:17 PM, Guest (guest) said...
Subject: Smell
There are certain things that produce strong or long lasting smells when you cook them.
Artichokes, crab legs, and brussel sprouts just to name a few.

I've found the best way to minimize the amount of time that the scent lingers is to open up the house.
Admittedly, not always the most convenient method, but here is San Diego the weather makes it feasible year round.

Another way to avoid it is to use an outdoor grill with a side burner.
I often cook outside just because I enjoy it, but when I'm cooking something "stinky", it definitely has other benefits.

On December 26, 2007 at 08:59 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: Not a cook!
I am just now beginning to think outside the box, and this is such an exciting dish to try. I like it because it is different than what I normally cook, but looks like I can handle it. My husband will be so surprised (he is a professional chef!)

On February 21, 2008 at 12:50 PM, TXweezie said...
Subject: Scallops in pepper sauce
I love the recipe and have decided to make it for 8 guests in a couple of weeks.

:unsure: My question is on serving: should I place the parts (pasta, scallops, sauce) in separate serving dishes on a buffet, or recruit help and serve up each plate and distribute to seated guests.

There will be a salad also, which will possibly be self serve.

On May 05, 2008 at 07:33 PM, Keith (guest) said...
Subject: Avoiding the problem with the scallops and water
Hey, Love your website - I use it all of the time, keep it up!

I saw your comment and picture of your scallops - I buy mine frozen from CostCo and I drain them on paper towel (I usually wait for the paper to soak up the liquid for 20 mins then swap them to a fresh piece of paper towel). I also thaw them (in the refrigerator overnight) on paper towel. I find this plus a HOT HOT pan results in no liquid at all, one minute a side is enough to cook them and produce a lovely brown color.

Hope this helps and I'd be interested to see how this works in the engineer's kitchen!


On December 04, 2008 at 08:33 PM, Ana (guest) said...
Subject: Pan Seared Scallops with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Great presentation! You make it look like it's very easy to prepare this meal and the photos are just tempting me to go and try the recipe now! I've been trying to cook scallops without any luck, hopefully when I try this recipe my family will be able to enjoy them

You should try to get your recipe (especially the red pepper sauce) be featured in a cookbook or cooking magazine or at least be reviewed so others can get to enjoy them more. Here is one site that I know reviews recipes and cookbooks I get some wonderful recipes there too.

On January 05, 2009 at 09:16 PM, loveblumes (guest) said...
Subject: delicious
Though I'm no engineer, I found this recipe easy to follow and delicious. I couldn't stop eating the roasted peppers after peeling the skins! Smokey, sweet and so flavorful. The color, too, just beautiful. I didn't have sour cream so I added about 1/2 cup of heavy cream. I even liked it without adding any cream. I dried each of my scallops in a paper towel before searing. I seasoned with salt and pepper. I had mine with quinoa instead of pasta. Just fabulous. Thank you. I will be using this simple but delicious sauce for much more. :D

On January 08, 2009 at 07:04 PM, guest (guest) said...
Subject: Finishing Touch
So after my sauce was blended, I had my sauce in one hand, and picked up the frying pan that I had sauteed the scallops in, and "accidentally" poured the sauce in to the frying pan and scraped up all the goodies on the bottom.

I let it simmer for a few minutes, and it changed the flavor quite a bit.

Awesome recipe, so easy and very flavourful. Tasted very fresh with the parsley.

On February 26, 2009 at 04:14 PM, Cooking For Fun (guest) said...
Subject: I Loved It!
I replaced the sour cream with some ranch potato chip dip that I had in the fridge.(Dip is 99% sour cream) It turned out delicious. I used canned roasted peppers with the juice and substituted the lemon zest with lemon pepper seasoning. Thanks so much for a great recipe.


On December 21, 2009 at 08:03 PM, Melissa from Foodista (guest) said...
Subject: Best Food Blog Submissions
I've been following your blog for quite a while and enjoying your wealth of good recipes. When Foodista announced that they are going to publish the best food blogs in a full color book that will be published by Andrews McMeel Publishing Fall 2010, I naturally thought of you. This recipe would be a good submission! You can enter here:

Editor and Community Developer -- The Cooking Encyclopedia Everyone Can Edit

On January 25, 2010 at 07:58 PM, an anonymous reader said...
This recipe was excellent!! Thanks for teaching me about cooking scallops - I just learned I was ALWAYS overcooking them.

We will be making this again.

On May 10, 2010 at 06:18 PM, msmooreski1 (guest) said...
Subject: Humor me?
I know this is obvious to everyone, but I was confused about the steaming after roasting (the red peppers). After the initial 15min of roasting, you take the peppers OUT of the broiler/oven/grill to steam them right? They are just hot enough on their own to sustain the 5-10 min of steam? They can just sit on the counter or whatever, in their foil pack?

On May 10, 2010 at 06:45 PM, Michael Chu said...
Subject: Re: Humor me?
msmooreski1 wrote:
I know this is obvious to everyone, but I was confused about the steaming after roasting (the red peppers). After the initial 15min of roasting, you take the peppers OUT of the broiler/oven/grill to steam them right? They are just hot enough on their own to sustain the 5-10 min of steam? They can just sit on the counter or whatever, in their foil pack?

Sorry, the instructions weren't too clear on this part. You aren't introducing any additional heating process (like steaming over a pot of simmering water) - you're just going to allow the peppers to steam in their own hot water vapor. Just take them out and wrap them in foil and let them rest on a trivet on your counter for 5-10 minutes. That should loosen up the skins.

On December 21, 2011 at 10:11 AM, cra509 (guest) said...
Subject: steaming the peppers
One other trick to steaming the peppers is to put them in a plastic grocery bag after grilling and tying it closed very tight. Let it sit for 5 - 10 minutes and they will peel so easily.

On July 09, 2012 at 11:57 AM, John (guest) said...
Subject: Roasted red peppers
I roast my red bell peppper on the barbaque. Just put the peppers whole on the grill and turn them as the skin blackens. By keeping them whole all the delicious juice is retained. When they're done I wrap them in foil to cool. Place a bowl in the sink and put the peppers in a strainer. When you open them the juice just pours out. Remove the skin and place the peppers in a canning jar with the juice cut up some fresh garlic and add it to the jar with a little extra virgin olive oil. Refrigerate them until ready to use.

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