Should you thaw scallops before cooking them? Frozen or thawed, what is the best way to cook them? The answer is to leave them frozen and to braise them in tomato sauce. You’re going to love the convenience and the flavors in this recipe!
The most elegant way to cook scallops is to pan-sear them. However, that works best for scallops that are very dry before cooking. Once scallops have been frozen, it can be hard to get them that dry. And also, if you’re making a pasta sauce or soup where the sear isn’t necessary, then there’s actually no real need to thaw them in the first place. They will be tender and delicious if you cook them straight from frozen in a nice sauce. Below I’ll fill you in on the best way to cook scallops that are frozen, and it is absolutely to braise them straight from frozen. I can’t wait for you to try this!
Bay Scallops, Sea Scallops, And Patagonian Scallops
Frozen scallops are most readily available in two varieties: Bay scallops and sea scallops.
Sea Scallops are also known as Alaskan scallops, Great scallops, Jumbo scallops, or King scallops. They are the larger variety of the two. Sea scallops are harvested in Alaska, Canada, and the Atlantic coast from Newfoundland to North Carolina in deeper, colder waters. They have large shells and offer larger portions of scallop meat compared to the bay scallops.
Bay scallops are also known as Cape scallops, China scallops, Nantucket Scallops, and Queen scallops. They are a smaller, sweeter variety and are harvested in shallower waters, usually along the east coast North America. The recipe I’m sharing here uses frozen bay scallops, because their smaller size works best for cooking from frozen.
The other variety of scallops that you might find in the freezer section of your grocery store are Patagonian scallops. These come from the Antarctic, off of the coast of Argentina. Since they are similar to bay scallops in terms of their smaller size, texture, and sweet flavor, these scallops can be used interchangeably with bay scallops and are definitely suitable for the recipe below.
Buying Frozen Scallops
You can find frozen scallops in just about any grocery store, either in the frozen seafood aisle or at the fish counter. An average package of frozen sea scallops will contain about 16 scallops, while a package of bay scallops will contain between 70-100 per pound. If buying frozen scallops from your local fishmonger, you might see a “U/” followed by a number. This stands for the approximate number of scallops in a pound, so for sea scallops, you might see “U/10,” which means there are “under” 10 sea scallops in a pound.
If buying online, always purchase from a reputable company who clearly states their packing and shipping methods.
Cooking Frozen Scallops
If you have frozen sea scallops, you can absolutely thaw them using the technique for thawing below. Then make sure they are very dry before searing them like this.
When it comes to bay scallops, it can be hard to get a good sear on them because they cook through before they can really brown, especially if they have dampness from freezing, which is hard to avoid. I therefore instead recommend cooking them directly from frozen by braising them in a flavorful sauce. That gently thaws the scallops as they cook.
This braised technique turns even frozen scallops into luscious and tender seafood bites. The braised scallops and the sauce they’re cooked in is wonderful over pasta or rice, or just have it with crusty bread.
To broil, bake, or pan sear sea scallops or bay scallops, you’ll want to thaw them completely using the method described for thawing below. Then pat them dry, and then cook according to the recipe. If you want a good sear on them, you can try this Pan-Seared Scallops recipe. If you’d like to keep things simple, you’ll want this Air Fryer Scallop recipe with a lemon butter sauce. Remember, these both start out with thawing the frozen scallops in the fridge. And also note that to get any kind of sear, you really need to make sure the scallops are very dry, which can be tough. I therefore prefer to braise scallops that have been frozen, as shown in the recipe below, rather than trying to sear them.
Braising Frozen Scallops
To braise sea scallops or bay scallops, you have two options. First, you can thaw them completely and then add them according to the recipe. Or, in most cases, you can add them frozen and cook the recipe according to the directions, like with the frozen scallops method below.
My frozen scallops recipe below is a braise. The scallops gently thaw and then cook while simmering in a flavorful, quick tomato sauce. There’s really no need to thaw them ahead of time. I think this is the best way to cook scallops directly from frozen. However, you can use thawed scallops in this recipe as well.
Fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes work best in this recipe, however, canned diced tomatoes can be substituted when tomatoes are out of season, or if you just like the convenience.
To start, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet until shimmering. Add the tomatoes and salt and toss the tomatoes in the pan to coat in the oil and salt. Cook this for about 5 minutes without stirring to caramelize the tomatoes. They’ll be a lot of steam coming from the pan, which is exactly what you want. The liquid in the tomatoes is evaporating and concentrating the flavors, while at the same time caramelizing the outside. Stir the tomatoes and cook 3 minutes more to continue the caramelization. Some browning might happen in the bottom of the pan – this is normal.
Add the crushed red pepper, onion, garlic, bay leaf, and thyme and stir well to incorporate.
Using the back of a spoon or potato masher, lightly crush the tomatoes to release any additional juices. Bring this mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, occasionally stirring until the sauce has reduced significantly. This will take about 3 minutes more.
Stir in the frozen scallops and reduce the heat to low. Cover the pan and let the scallops braise for about 8 minutes. If the scallops still need longer to be opaque throughout, remove the pan from heat, and let it stand covered for another minute or two.
The sauce will be lightly spicy, with a seafood brothy consistency. I like to serve this over pasta or rice with lots of crusty bread for soaking up the sauce. I also love to braise green beans or zucchini in the pan as well, for a fantastic one-pan dinner.
Are They Fully-Cooked?
Cut into a scallop and make sure that it is hot to the touch inside, and that it is opaque and fully white in color. Then you know that the scallops are safe to eat.
If you aren’t braising frozen scallops like in the method here, you’ll need to thaw them first. Frozen sea scallops and bay scallops should always be gently and slowly thawed in the refrigerator overnight. This slow process will ensure they thaw at a safe temperature.
Do not thaw any type of scallops in warm or hot water, at room temperature, or in the microwave. Each method can quickly produce bacteria that causes food poisoning. In addition, the microwave can partially cook the scallops, making them rubbery.
Freezing your own fresh scallops isn’t recommended. The slow-to-freeze method from home freezers will produce large ice crystals within the scallops, making the texture mushy after thawing.
Both frozen varieties can hold on to a lot of moisture after being thawed, so be sure to pat dry well with a paper towel before trying to broil, bake, or pan sear. Otherwise, the wet scallops will steam instead of sear as the moisture is released during cooking.
Okay, now let’s get onto this delicious method for braising frozen scallops in a fresh tomato sauce. I can’t wait for you to try this! -Christine xoPrint
How To Cook Frozen Scallops (Recipe)
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Rest Time: 2 minutes
- Cook Time: 11 minutes
- Total Time: 23 minutes
- Yield: 4 servings 1x
- Category: Entrée
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: American
Garnish this dish with fresh thyme and chopped parsley. Serve over pasta, rice, or vegetables.
Listen to me explain briefly about how to make this dish, with some great tips along the way, by clicking the play button below:
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil
- 3 large tomatoes, cut into wedges*
- 1 tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 small onion, minced
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme (or ½ tsp. dried)
- 1 lb. frozen bay scallops
- In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add tomatoes and salt, then toss to coat in oil. Cook 5 minutes without stirring to caramelize. Stir tomatoes. Cook 3 minutes more to blister.
- Add crushed red pepper, onion, garlic, bay leaf, and thyme. Stir well to incorporate.
- Using the back of a spoon or potato masher, lightly crush tomatoes to release juices. Bring to boiling, reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally until sauce has reduced, about 3 minutes more.
- Stir in frozen scallops. Reduce heat to low; cover pan. Braise scallops for 8 minutes. Remove pan from heat, let stand covered 2 minutes more or until scallops are just cooked through and opaque throughout.
*Fresh tomatoes can be substituted with a 14-oz. can of well-drained diced tomatoes.
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