For years I couldn't figure out what was wrong with my scallops. I tried desperately to find out why the heck I wasn't able to get that great sear that restaurant scallops always had. Was it my pan? Should I be using oil instead of butter? The solution is easier than you think.
After weeks of research I discovered the issue: phosphates. The vast majority of scallops sold in U.S. markets are what's known as "wet" scallops. This means that these delicious little guys have been soaked in a phosphate solution, to both preserve and whiten them, that leads to a slightly soapy taste as well as preventing a good sear. Dry-packed scallops, those that haven't had a phosphate soak, are what restaurants use. Of course, those dry scallops are much higher quality and, as I'm sure you've guessed, much more expensive. Dry scallops are also harder to come by especially for those who are hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean.
You don't have to give up on those easy-to-find wet scallops. Wet scallops are more economical and fairly readily available. All they need is good brine. A saltwater and lemon brine will help rinse the scallops out, giving you a great sear and removing that soapy taste.
In a large glass bowl, add 1/4 cup lemon juice, 2 tablespoons salt and 1 cup water. Microwave for 30 seconds, stir and repeat until the salt has disolved. Add 2 cups ice cold water and stir. Make sure the brine is cold to avoid cooking the scallops prematurely (refrigerate if necessary). Add the scallops and allow to brine for 30-40 minutes in the refrigerator. If you are certain your scallops are dry-packed, skip the brine. Rinse them well and allow them to dry on paper towels for 10 minutes.
Remove the scallops from the brine and place on a stack of 4 to 6 paper towels. Top with another stack of paper towels and allow to drain and dry for 15 minutes.
Season with pepper.
Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until very hot but not smoking. Working in batches, add about 5 large scallops to the pan at a time, crowding the pan will prevent the scallops from getting a good sear.
Let the scallops cook, undisturbed until browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Using a pair of tongs, gently flip, cooking on the other side until seared, an additional 3 to 4 minutes. Serve immediately.
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