This decadent seared scallop pasta comes with a light yet creamy sauce full of shallots and parsley that’s perfect for a date night dinner at home.
I’m already starting to make a list of recipes to cook at home for the holiday season and I know I’m not alone. This year many of us will be spending time in an intimate setting rather than at a big Christmas or New Year’s party. So if you’re looking for a meal that feels like you’re dining at a 5 star restaurant, but without all the effort this one is for you.
Essentially this whole recipe is about 8 ingredients total and really allows the sweet, creamy nature of the scallops to shine. The garlic cream sauce is cut with vegetable broth, which lightens the whole meal up a bit. It’s decadent without being heavy.
Choosing Good Scallops
When you use minimal ingredients, it’s important the ones you’re using are high quality. Good scallops are usually called “dry scallops”. Wet scallops are typically treated with sodium tripolyphosphate, causing them to bloat with excess fluid so they appear larger than they are. These are the kind you might find frozen at Walmart. If you use these, it’s difficult to get a proper sear and additional chemicals aren’t great for people with migraine anyway. Dry scallops will have more of a skin-colored, creamy tone as opposed to being a gray-ish white.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask your local fishmonger. Whole Foods usually has a really good selection, or if you’re in Texas and have a Central Market, that is where I get mine. Don’t be intimidated to cook these! They’re really simple once you get the hang of them, plus they cook super fast. Talk about a quick dinner!
Seared Scallop Rules
So how do you get that perfectly golden crust on the outside of your scallops without overcooking them? Here are a few rules for searing scallops.
- Get Them Dry – Just like you want to start with dry scallops, make sure they’re patted dry as well, removing any excess moisture. Sometimes I’ll pat them between two paper towels and then return them (uncovered) on a plate to the fridge. Pull them out just before you want to cook. Excess moisture causes the scallops to steam instead of sear. This is also why it’s important to space them apart at least 2″ in your pan.
- Get Your Pan Hot – Your pan needs to be really hot when you add them. Like just starting to smoke hot. This is why I like to use half butter/half oil when searing. Oil increases the searing temperature without the butter burning, while butter adds the flavor. You can also do this with all oil as well or ghee, which has a higher smoke point than regular butter.
- Don’t Mess with Them – Don’t add them to the pan and then get curious and start lifting them around. This is bad!! No!! Set them in the pan and don’t check them for at least 2 minutes on the first side. Scallops usually only take 1 1/2 – 2 minutes to cook per side, depending on how large they are. Mine are pretty large here so they took closer to 2 minutes. This will help you develop that nice, golden crust without getting rubbery in the middle.
For the creamy garlic pasta, you’ll simmer a sauce of broth and cream together that will thicken when the pasta is added to the sauce. I love a combination of shallots, garlic, and fresh herbs. Here I kept it simple with parsley, but basil and chives would be wonderful additions as well.
For cream, if you’re following a migraine diet, you want to look for a heavy cream without carrageenan. Occasionally you can get lucky and find a great brand without any gums, however, most are added. Organic Valley, Mill King, and Horizon all have good, acceptable options. Of course if you want to make this dairy free, you can leave the cream out and just add more broth. It will lose the creamy texture, but the simple herbs and garlic will make it tasty.
Finally any pasta you like will do for this. If you need to purchase gluten free, just follow the instructions on the package. I used linguine here.
Scallop and Pasta Recipes
For more recipes like this creamy seared scallop pasta, check out these favorites.
This seared scallop pasta with a light creamy garlic sauce is so delicious for a simple holiday dinner or date night.
- 1 tablespoon butter or ghee
- 1 tablespoon olive oil or cooking oil
- 8 large sea scallops
- kosher salt and pepper
- 8 oz pasta
- 1 large shallot, chopped
- 4-5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 ⅓ cups vegetable broth
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/3 cup fresh Italian, flat leaf parsley, chopped
Prepare a pot with salted boiling water and cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve about 1 cup of pasta water just in case you need it to thin the sauce.
Prepare your scallops using the tips from the post (pat them dry and don't sprinkle with salt and pepper till immediately before searing). Heat a large pan, I prefer non-stick or cast iron, with butter and oil over medium high heat. Once hot, add the dry, seasoned scallops and don't crowd them or mess with them! If they don't make a sizzle sound, your pan isn't hot enough. Leave them to sear for 2 minutes, or until a nice brown crust forms. Flip and cook another 2-2½ minutes or until you get the same crust on the opposite side. Set the scallops on a warm plate and cover with foil.
In the same pan, use the leftover butter/oil to saute the chopped shallot and garlic, about 2 minutes until softened and fragrant. If your pan is dry, use 1 tablespoon more butter or oil. Deglaze the pan by adding broth, scraping up any browned bits (this basically means add broth to a hot pan which should bubble up and start to simmer). Then add cream and bring to a simmer for about 3-4 minutes until the sauce has thickened (it will still be fairly thin, that's ok, it will thicken once the pasta is added).
Add your cooked pasta and toss with the sauce, simmering to thicken it a bit more. If your sauce is too thick or isn't coating the pasta well, add in 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water till it reaches your desired consistency. Add in fresh chopped parsley and kosher salt and pepper to taste. Top with the cooked scallops.
- Use dry scallops instead of wet for the best sear/flavor
- In my opinion, scallops don't need a ton of seasoning - salt them very lightly just before searing, if at all. Fresh pepper is more important.
- I used Organic Valley Heavy Cream and the vegetable broth from my cookbook. If you have homemade seafood stock on hand, that will work here too.
- Use gluten free pasta for GF, and leave out the cream for a dairy free option. If you do this, I recommend adding more herbs like basil and chives for flavor.
- Fresh squeezed lemon would be fantastic here, but not allowed in the elimination stages of a migraine diet. For those not on this diet, feel free to top with a squeeze of lemon.