Scallops: To Sous-Vide or Not To Sous-Vide, That’s the Question

Sea scallops are one of my favorite foods. When I first got my sous-vide appliance over two years ago, it was one of the first foods I tried. And I was underwhelmed. I didn’t do any side by side testing back then, but I was pretty sure that I couldn’t find anything special about the scallops that had been cooked sous-vide. After that I didn’t sous-vide scallops anymore. Since I was still relatively new to sous-vide back then, I decided to do a proper side by side experiment to find out once and for all whether those rave reviews I had seen elsewhere about the magnificent texture of sous-vide scallops were true after all.

When I did some experiments with different qualities of scallops, I noticed that the texture of freshly shucked scallops is much firmer than scallops that are sold already shucked. Since I don’t remember having tried freshly shucked scallops in my earlier experiments, I decided to include some fresh ones too. Here’s what I did.

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I started with 2 scallops out of the shell with a production date (i.e. shucking date) of 4 days prior, and two scallops in the shell.

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It’s always nice to buy scallops in the shell, because that means I get to use my French knife whose sole purpose is shucking scallops.

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The scallops I shucked myself are on the right. As you can see they have a darker color and are smaller than the ones I bought already shucked.

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I vacuum sealed one of each.

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I cooked them sous-vide at 50C/122F for 30 minutes.

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Then I cooled them down quickly.

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All the scallops were brought to room temperature and patted dry with paper towels. At this stage it was clearly visible which scallops were uncooked and which were cooked sous-vide.

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I then melted some clarified butter in a non-stick pan over high heat and added the scallops.

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I seared them quickly on both sides. It turned out that I should have seared the smaller freshly shucked scallops even shorter, because they ended up being slightly overcooked.

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I then tasted all of them. There was no significant visible difference and no difference in texture or taste between the scallops that were seared only and the ones that were cooked sous-vide first. It was as if they had not been precooked at all! Of course there was a difference between the smaller freshly shucked scallops and the larger already shucked ones, but that’s not what this test is about. There was such a lack of difference that I don’t think it worth to perform experiments at different sous-vide temperatures, but I’d be happy to hear about it if anyone has a different experience.

So my conclusion is that there is no use to cooking scallops sous-vide. Just sear them!

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16 thoughts on “Scallops: To Sous-Vide or Not To Sous-Vide, That’s the Question

  1. Sorry to disagree with you Stephan (not disrespectfully, of course…) but try the Scallops sous vide @ 55c for 12 minutes then sear quickly – beautiful and, for me, better than simply pan-frying. Give them a go…

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  2. I really enjoy your food experiments. This is great information. Thank you.

    I had dinner at a wonderful Italian restaurant last night and one dish reminded me of your sous-vide cooking skills. They served for the second course a dish described as: cuttlefish “tagliatelle” with capers, chili flakes, lobster, and agretti. They said that the cuttlefish was cooked sous-vide for 4.5 hours. Then it was pressed to remove any liquids, and then thinly shaved like tagliatelle and then dressed in a wonderful sauce. It was topped with thinly sliced Italian sea grass. I think they said Italian sea grass. Anyway, it was wonderful.

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  3. Scallops cook so quickly when seared in the pan, it’s hard to see why you would add an extra cooking process, but I think you concluded that already. 😉 Love your kitchen/lab tests!

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  4. You could get yourself into a loop of experimentation, trying them at different temperatures and with different cooking methods (smoking, searing, baking). For me, it’s a very hot pan, sear both sides and enjoy.

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  5. I applaud your testing, Stefan, but what really caught my eye were scallops so fresh that they’re still in the shell. I’m far too inland to find any here, although I did have one in a marine aquarium once. :)

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    • Unfortunately, still being in the shell is not a guarantee for being fresh. But as the weight and space of the shells is so large, it makes sense to shuck them before sending them inland.

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