These Thai Scallops make a quick and easy dinner that is packed with flavor, tastes fantastic, looks beautiful, and yet is so simple to make!
This would be the perfect Valentine's dinner as it tastes like something from a fine dining restaurant but take under 10 minutes to make at home.
The scallops are seared until golden then topped with a delicious mix of garlic, ginger, and chili. A splash of fish sauce and a garnish of cilantro and your Thai scallops are ready for the table.
How to buy scallops
You can use fresh or frozen scallops for this recipe. Just ensure that your frozen scallops have been thoroughly defrosted and dried before you cook them. (see here for how to defrost scallops)
I like to buy sea scallops as they are larger and meatier than bay scallops. But bay scallops do represent excellent value for money. The recipe will still work with bay scallops.
Another vital thing to look at when buying scallops is whether you get untreated scallops and treated scallops. (More details below)
Treated and untreated scallops
Both sea scallops and bay scallops can be treated, so no matter what scallops you buy, always look for whether they are treated or not. The difference is quite marked, so it pays to look carefully at the packaging.
Treated scallops, also known as wet scallops, are lighter and almost pure white. They have been treated with a phosphate solution called sodium tripolyphosphate (or STPP). This means they absorb water and can also have a chemical taste. (Yuck!)
Absorbing water means as they cook, they will release water, making it hard to get a nice crust on them, and also, the loss of water causes them to shrink when cooked.
Untreated scallops, known as dry scallops, aren't treated with chemicals and will have a slightly darker, almost creamy color. They taste like a scallop rather than chemicals and are much easier to cook and achieve the golden crust.
How to sear scallops
Scallops need very little cooking. If you have ever eaten a scallop that is a bit chewy or rubbery, then I would almost guarantee you've been served an overcooked scallop. If the flavor has been a bit unpleasant, then you probably had a treated scallop. (see above)
Scallops should be in the pan no more than 3 minutes in total!
I learned to cook scallops from Gordon Ramsey, so I do exactly as I am told!!!
Perfectly cooked scallops should have a crisp golden-brown crust and be delicate and tender in the middle.
You can read my full length in-depth top tips for "How to Perfectly Pan Sear Scallops" here, but here's a recap:
- Dry the scallops thoroughly before you start to cook them. To do this, place them on kitchen paper and pat the tops try until they feel almost sticky to the touch.
- Don't season the scallop until your pan is hot, and you are about to put the scallops into the pan. This stops the salt drawing out the moisture.
- Add the scallops to your frying pan/skillet in an ordered pattern. I use a clock face method and start at 12 o'clock; this way, I know which scallop went in the pan first and which to turn first.
- Scallops need no more than 90 seconds on each side. They should still be soft and tender in the center.
- Once you've added the scallops to the pan, don't move them until it is time to flip them. This allows a crust to form.
- If you are using smaller bay scallops, follow the same advice but reduce the cooking time down to 60 seconds per side.
A simple Thai sauce or dressing
The flavors you get in Thai cooking are so fresh and delicious; they work wonderfully with the sweetness of the scallops.
Thai food is all about the trinity of sweet, salty, and sour. This sauce is a beautiful mixture of garlic, chili, and ginger, along with some salty fish sauce and sour lime. This easy sauce balances the sweet scallops perfectly.
The sauce is made in the same pan as the scallops and takes just minutes to come together. It is essential to have all the ingredients chopped before you start cooking the scallops. Once the scallops hit the pan, the whole dish is finished within 5 minutes!
To make the sauce: Once the scallops are cooked, you remove them from the pan and add in the sauce ingredients. They will sizzle and cook quickly. It will need about 1 minute to come together. Nothing needs cooking for long, and we don't want to let the scallops go cold.
What to serve with Thai Scallops
I like to serve these Thai scallops with my Thai Sweet Potato Mash. It is the perfect sweet yet savory accompaniment! I have included the recipe card just below the scallop one, or you can read the full post here.
Alternatively you could serve these with some fried rice, coconut rice or a simple Thai noodle salad.
What to drink with Thai Scallops
The sweetness of the scallops with the salty sour sauce are the perfect mix for an off dry riesling or a Gewurtztraminer. The sweetness in the wine balances with the spice in the sauce.
I also like a sparkling Moscato. with this dish.
Pin this recipe for Thai Scallops. Pin it here.
For the Sauce
- 1 red chilies
- 2 garlic cloves
- ½ inch chunk peeled ginger
- 2 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 lime
- ½ teaspoon brown sugar
- Fresh cilantro - see note 1
For the scallops
- 12-16 sea scallops - see note 2
- 3 tablespoon oil - see note 3
- Pinch salt
- 1 tablespoon butter
Start by prepping the sauce ingredients (see note 4)
- Finely chop the chili.
- Peel and finely slice the garlic
- Cut the ginger into thin matchsticks
- Zest the lime and then squeeze the juice out.
- Set these all aside until needed (see note 4)
To cook the scallops
- Use paper towels to pat the scallops dry. You want to ensure the scallops have no moisture on the surface.
- Place a heavy-based frying pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoon of oil and let it heat until shimmering (at least 1 minute)
- Season the scallops lightly with salt. Then carefully and quickly add the scallops to the frying pan.
- Do them individually, starting at 12 o'clock and working around the outside of the pan.
- Cook the scallops for 90 seconds on one side.
- Turn the heat off under the pan and add 1 tablespoon of butter.
- Use tongs to gently turn each scallop over into the sizzling butter, again starting at 12 o'clock and working around in the same order you added the scallops.
- Leave the scallops for 60 seconds, then remove the scallops from the pan and place them on a plate.
To make the sauce (work quickly now the scallops are cooked)
- Put the prepared garlic, chili, and ginger into the frying pan and stir to cook in the hot oil and butter.
- Pour in 2 tablespoon fish sauce, the squeezed lime juice, and sprinkling over ½ teaspoon of brown sugar.
- Once everything is bubbling (about 1 minute), pour over the scallops, and serve with fresh cilantro and a little lime zest.
- You can leave the cilantro out if you want. Or swap for some Thai basil.
- 12-16 sea scallops. If you are using bay scallops, then you will need more to make this a main dish. Try to buy untreated scallops as they will be sweeter and will not release water when cooked.
- I like to use peanut oil or coconut oil for this. But canola oil will be fine.
- Once you start to cook the scallops, take 3 minutes, and the sauce takes 1-2 minutes. So you want to have everything chopped and ready before you begin to ensure the scallops don't get overcooked or cold.
Thai Sweet Potato Mash Recipe
- 6 medium sweet potatoes - see note 1
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- ⅔ cup coconut milk - see note 2
- 1 ½ tablespoon Thai red curry paste
- 1 red chili - finely chopped
- 3 tablespoon shredded coconut
- fresh cilantro
- Peel and cut the 6 sweet potatoes into 1″ (2.5cm) cubes.
- Then place in a large saucepan and cover with boiling water.
- Bring back to a boil, add 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of brown sugar. Then simmer for 15 minutes until tender.
- While the sweet potatoes are cooking pour ⅔ cup of coconut milk into a small pan and bring to a simmer, add the red Thai curry paste and stir to dissolve.
- Drain well and then return potatoes to saucepan.
- Mash the potatoes to your preferred consistency (See note 3)
- Pour the hot coconut milk mixture through your mashed potatoes and stir to combine.
- Serve garnished with the chopped red chili, 3 tablespoons of shredded coconut, and fresh cilantro.
- Six sweet potatoes will be around 3.5lb-4lb (1.5kg-1.8kg)
- You can replace this with coconut cream for a richer dish.
- Ways to mash your sweet potatoes:
- Use a Fork: This will give you a coarser mashed sweet potato.
- Use a Potato Masher: (preferred method) This gives excellent results and a beautiful smooth mash.
- Use a Food Processor/mixer: Unlike standard potatoes, you can get a smooth mash from sweet potatoes in the food processor, but be careful, just like standard potatoes they can turn gluey if you mix them for too long.