Ben Conniff, co-founder of Luke’s Lobster, tops a bed of salad with seared scallops. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

You know you’re working with super-fresh seafood when it’s still moving just seconds before hitting the pan.

In his kitchen at Eventide Oyster Co. on a recent Thursday afternoon, chef and co-owner Andrew Taylor demonstrated the freshness of day-boat scallops he received from Portland wholesalers Upstream by slicing into a glistening, meaty cylinder.

As he preheated a French carbon steel sauté pan, Taylor cut a silver dollar-size slice from the end of one of the scallops and held it in his hand. The edges of the still-animated slice quivered slightly.

“This thing is still basically alive,” Taylor said. “When scallops are this fresh, they’re so good. They’re not opaque or milky looking.  They have a translucency and a sheen to them, and they hold their shape really well.”

From December through March, Maine’s scallop season is in full swing, so local chefs and seafood fans are now indulging in the fruits of the wild harvest. Maine’s wild-harvested scallops are prized for their firm texture and exceptional sweetness.

“In my experience, it’s because of the cold, clean water and healthy ecosystem with the right conditions for scallops to grow and to taste as sweet as they should,” said Ben Conniff, co-founder of Luke’s Lobster. “The water creates the right balance of plankton and algae that scallops need to eat. That diet contributes to the flavor. The lack of pollutants contribute to the flavor. Maine waters are very special in having that balance.”


We talked with Taylor, Conniff and other local seafood experts for guidance on how best to buy, store and prepare Gulf of Maine scallops. The general consensus: Purchase the freshest possible product, don’t overcomplicate things, and searing is usually the best way to keep the cooking simple.

Maine scallops don’t come cheap. Prices at area markets range roughly between $25 and $30 per pound, depending on size and catch method. Given that, you want the scallops to shine; you don’t want to mask them with overpowering ingredients or flavors. They’re delicious raw in a crudo. Otherwise, fresh scallops benefit the most from a quick, high-heat sear, which caramelizes the exterior while leaving the inside sweet, creamy and meltingly tender.

And while searing may seem simple enough, a small misstep – leaving too much surface moisture on the scallops, crowding the pan, using too much or too little heat – can lead to disappointment. Here’s a summary of their tips and pointers, along with a few scallop recipes to help you enjoy this wintertime Maine delicacy to the fullest.

Andrew Taylor, chef and co-owner of Eventide, salts the scallops before pan searing them. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


As with any seafood, you’ll get the best results if you buy scallops from a reputable vendor. Our sources recommended local markets like Browne Trading Market, Harbor Fish Market (in Portland and Scarborough), SoPo Seafood in South Portland and Cantrell Seafood in Lewiston and Topsham. They also suggested ordering day-boat scallops from Downeast Dayboat, or finding a fisherman with a state dealer’s license selling directly to the public, which can be tracked down via Facebook groups like The Maine Seafood Connection.

The kind of scallop matters, too, specifically “wet” vs. “dry.” Wet scallops refer to those that have been soaked in water or a solution of sodium tripolyphosphate, a preservative. Soaking increases the bivalve’s weight, thus bumping up the cost as well.


“You’re paying more and getting less,” Conniff said. “All you’re paying for is water, and you taste it. You taste the lack of flavor that comes with those wet scallops. Not to mention that if they’re soaked with (sodium tripolyphosphate), you’re getting a chemical you don’t particularly want in your food either.”

“Soaking is a really common practice in the seafood industry, way more common than you’d think,” Taylor said.

What you want to buy are dry scallops, which have never been soaked or treated. Dry scallops are visually distinguishable from their wet counterparts: Their cylindrical edges are more clearly defined, while the firm meat has a moist sheen and looks almost translucent.

Though dry Maine scallops cost more than wet scallops from away, for seafood lovers, the premium price is worth every penny. “Dry dayboat scallops are a delicacy compared to a lot of other scallops out there on the market,” Conniff said. “They’re not anything like what you’d get in your average grocery store.”

Wet scallops look flabby and opaque, and usually have milky-white liquid pooling around them. That excess liquid will cause the scallops to steam in the pan, making it impossible to develop a proper brown crust.

You can buy day-boat scallops (harvested and sold within about 24 hours), diver scallops (hand-harvested by ocean divers) or simply dry scallops, a little cheaper than day-boat or diver scallops but still very fresh and top-quality. Let your fishmonger know you’re interested in Gulf of Maine untreated dry scallops, and don’t be afraid to inspect the product.


“Make sure they’re plump and firm, and not broken or torn,” said Frederic Eliot, executive chef of Scales, Fore Street and Street & Co. “Fresh scallops should smell of the sea. And they should be pretty pristine for the price you’re paying.”

“This time of year, any of our local retailers will have Maine scallops,” said Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. “You’ve got to go to reputable dealers and ask for them. People will be honest with you about where they came from.”


Your fresh, dry Maine scallops may hold up fine in the refrigerator for a few days, but you’re doing them no favors. For a peak dining experience, you’ll want to cook the scallops the same day you bought them.

“Good dry scallops have a significant shelf life, but the sooner you cook them, the better they’re going to taste,” Conniff said.

Taylor advises keeping them dry and avoiding water contact. If they have anything on the outside that can’t be lifted off easily and needs to be rinsed away, thoroughly pat the scallops dry after rinsing.


Conniff refrigerates scallops in an airtight container. Taylor likes to store them in a paper towel-lined container to absorb any excess moisture. The drier the scallop, the better the searing will go later.


The best dishes using premium dry scallops spotlight their texture and flavor without overmanipulating or masking them with superfluous ingredients and accompaniments. Eliot and Taylor say they’re often inclined to serve pristine scallops raw in a crudo or ceviche. In a crudo, the scallops may be dressed with citrus juice or a vinaigrette, while the ceviche marinates the scallop meat a little longer in acid, lightly “cooking” it and firming its texture.

For hot preparations, seared scallop dishes can be refreshingly streamlined. In his scallop demo at Eventide, for example, Taylor turned out a tray of seared scallops that used just three ingredients: scallops, salt and butter. Four, if you count the canola oil he seared them in.

Those succulent, caramelized scallops could be served over pasta or rice, or with some crusty French bread to sop up the buttery sauce, or alongside a mixed greens salad. Taylor suggested adding seasoning like curry powder or Aleppo pepper to the scallops while they sear (though scorching the spices in the pan while they cook remains a risk), or some minced shallot and garlic while he bastes them with butter to finish.

What you want to avoid is mixing your pricey bivalves into a dish like a casserole or stew, which toughens their texture as they cook to well done and overpowers their delicate flavor.


Scallops searing in canola oil over high heat at Eventide. Once the first side is done, Eventide chef and co-owner Andrew Taylor will add a big knob of butter to the pan and baste the scallops with it. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


“Searing scallops is a super-easy method, and absolutely delicious,” Taylor said. “Caramelized scallop flavors and smell are one of my favorite things on the planet.”

High heat is the friend of a good sear, while excess moisture is the enemy. Taylor starts his process by heating a carbon-steel pan over high heat. Conniff likes to use a cast-iron pan for searing scallops because of its non-stick properties. Carbon-steel and cast-iron pans are better choices than Teflon-coated nonstick pans because they can handle higher temperatures and distribute heat more evenly across their surfaces. A good-quality, stainless steel sauté pan is another good choice.

Before he sets the scallops in the pan, Taylor pats them dry with a paper towel to remove any surface moisture that would interfere with the browning process. He coats the bottom of his pan with a thin layer of canola oil, chosen for its neutral flavor and, more importantly, its high smoke point. Oils like canola, corn and safflower have won’t start smoking until they reach about 450 degrees F, while olive oil will smoke at 375 degrees F or so.

“You can use olive oil, but it’ll start smoking earlier,” Taylor said. “It may not be as nice, because the oil can burn a little bit.”

High heat works best for scallops because the lean, small proteins cook to perfection in 2-4 minutes, depending on size. If you cooked them over medium heat, the insides would be well done by the time they browned properly.


Taylor pours the oil into the preheated pan. Once the first wisps of smoke rise up from the oil, he adds the scallops gently, off the heat to avoid flare ups from his open-flame gas burner.

He sets six medium-large scallops (sized 10-20 per pound) into the pan; any more and he’d begin to crowd the pan. If the scallops (or anything you’re browning in a saute pan, for that matter) are crowded in a pan with no room for air to circulate and moisture to evaporate, the moisture will stay in the pan, effectively steaming the food and preventing it from browning nicely.

Taylor then adjusts the heat so the scallops are cooking at about medium-high, which helps keep the fond – the little, highly flavorful browned bits that have separated from the food and stuck to the surface of the pan – from scorching. Then for a couple of minutes, he barely touches the scallops at all.

“Don’t mess with them too much,” he cautioned. “Let them caramelize really nicely on that one side.”

Once the bottom sides are deeply golden brown, Taylor flips the scallops and drains any excess oil from the pan. He turns the heat down slightly and adds about 2 tablespoons cold butter to the pan. As it melts and sizzles, the butter will deglaze the pan, morphing into a delectable sauce as the fond dissolves and flavors it.

Taylor tips the pan toward him on the edge of the burner, and with a large spoon, bastes the scallops with the sizzling, frothing butter. This finishing touch takes about a minute, since the scallops don’t need to cook for an equal amount of time on the second side.


Ben Conniff, co-founder of Luke’s Lobster, sears scallops at his home in Portland. The cast iron pan will heat evenly and prevent the scallops from sticking. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer


Scallop connoisseurs prefer them cooked just to medium-rare or medium. From the outside, a finished scallop will appear to have plumped a little around the middle.

“It’s atrocious when you get overcooked scallops,” said Eliot. Like Taylor, Eliot doesn’t sear scallops on both sides, but rather bastes with butter to finish. “It’s like cooking a steak to well done.”

Some cooks check doneness by giving the scallop a gentle squeeze or poke. “You want it to feel only a tiny bit firmer than it did when it was raw,” Conniff said.

Taylor and his Eventide team – like many classically trained chefs – use cake testers to evaluate doneness. He inserts the metal tester into the center of the scallop for a second or two, then touches the tip of the tester to his lower lip, a highly temperature-sensitive part of the body.

“I just want to make sure they’re not still cold in the middle. As long as it feels warm, that means you’ve cooked them medium-rare to medium, and you’re good. If it’s hot, you’ve probably gone a little too far, though it’ll still be delicious. If it’s cold, just keep on basting.”


For anyone needing a more precise method, America’s Test Kitchen advises using an instant-read digital thermometer, and pulling the scallops from the heat when they reach 115 degrees F. Carryover cooking from the high heat process will raise the final temperature of the scallops to 125 to 130 degrees F by the time they’re served.

Scallop Salad with Fennel and Prosciutto. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer


Recipe from Luke’s Lobster. Luke’s Lobster Co-owner Ben Conniff likes how the flour coating gives the scallops an extra-crisp crust. Later in January, Luke’s Lobster will start selling day-boat scallops online, shipped directly to consumers.

Serves 4 as a meal, 8 as an appetizer

5 tablespoons olive oil, divided

4 slices prosciutto


1 lb. dry Gulf of Maine scallops

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 cup all-purpose flour

5 ounces mixed salad greens

3/4 cup thinly sliced fennel

1 blood orange, cut into 1/4 inch slices, peel removed, and segments cut into individual triangles


1 teaspoon lemon zest and 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 12-inch cast iron pan over medium heat. Add the prosciutto and cook until crisp and lightly browned on the bottom. Flip and brown the second side, then remove the prosciutto from the pan to a paper towel and pat dry to remove excess oil.

Rinse the scallops with cold water and pat dry with a paper towel. Season the scallops with salt and pepper.

Put the flour in a shallow bowl and roll the scallops in the flour to lightly coat.

Add the remaining 4 tablespoons oil to the prosciutto renderings in the pan and warm over medium heat.


Cook the scallops in the oil until golden brown on both sides and opaque in the center, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the scallops from the pan and place on a paper towel.

Toss the greens, fennel, and blood oranges together in a salad bowl.

Add the lemon zest and juice, and thyme to the skillet in which you cooked the scallops and deglaze the pan by bringing the juice to a boil and scraping any bits from the bottom. Remove from the heat and pour the juice over the salad greens.

Arrange the scallops atop the salad and crumble the prosciutto over all.


From “Catch: A Maine seafood cookbook from the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.” Chef Jesse Souza, of Front & Main in Waterville, contributed the recipe to the cookbook.


Serves 6

1 cup crème fraîche

1/4 cup grainy mustard

1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste


1/2 pound slab bacon, diced

1/4 cup diced onion

1/4 cup diced fennel

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 cups diced and par-cooked potato, parsnip, turnip and carrot (or any mix of potato and root vegetables you like)

2 cups cooked, peeled and diced red beets


1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

3 pounds sea scallops (preferably dry, Gulf of Maine)

Olive oil, as needed

2 tablespoons butter

Garnish options: chopped chives, dill or micro herbs, shaved radish


To prepare the mustard-scallion crème fraîche, stir together the crème fraîche, mustard, scallions and lemon juice; season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To prepare the hash, heat a large skillet over medium heat and render the bacon until crisp, then remove the bacon from the pan and place on a paper towel. Reserve the bacon fat separately.

Add 2 tablespoons bacon fat back to pan and sauté the onion, fennel and garlic for 3 to 4 minutes until softened and fragrant. Add the potato and root vegetable mix and season well with salt and pepper.

Cook vegetable mix, stirring regularly, 5-8 minutes or until vegetables begin to caramelize and soften. Add the beets, thyme and rosemary; check seasoning. Cook another 3 to 4 minutes.

To prepare the scallops, heat another large skillet over high heat. Season scallops well with salt. The skillet should be hot enough that the oil lightly smokes when added. Add the olive oil, swirl to coat pan, then carefully add the scallops, working in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan.

Once you have a golden brown crust on one side, flip the scallops and add butter, basting the melted butter over the scallops. Remove and keep warm while sautéing the remaining scallops.


To serve, divvy up the crème fraîche–mustard mixture and the warm flannel hash among 6 plates, then divide scallops evenly among them. Garnish.


From the “Harbor Fish Market” cookbook. “The best scallop we have ever eaten is our inshore Maine scallop, harvested in the winter months,” the book states. “They come into the shop still quivering as small boats in Downeast Maine drag them daily.” This clean, simple recipe lets pristine scallops shine, as briefly marinating in citrus acid denatures the proteins and “cooks” the scallops and firms their texture slightly.

Serves 4

8 scallops, sliced into thin discs (silver dollar size, 4 cuts)

Juice of 1 lemon


Juice of 1/2 lime

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

Pinch of fresh dill, plus more to garnish

Lemon wedges, to garnish

Put the scallop slices in a bowl. Add the lemon juice, lime juice and olive oil. Add salt, pepper and dill; toss to coat.

Allow the scallops to marinate for 15 minutes. Arrange on a plate, and garnish with a sprig of dill or wedge of lemon, if desired.

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