Cooking the perfect Scallop: sous vide vs pan searing

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Scallops(wiki) are one of my favorite foods, they are also one of the most delicate, expensive, and easy to overcook. Given how fool proof and consistent sous vide cooking is, I wanted to see how a more traditional pan sear method stood up against a sous vide preparation of scallops. Both methods produce a great result, scroll down for more information and the winner.

Battle scallops: sous vide (left) vs pan sear (right)

seared (left) vs sous vide (right) scallop

The two recipes I used are as follows.

I used U-12 (under 12 per pound) scallops from Costco.

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Seared Scallops

Recipe:

This method comes from chefsteps. Coat the bottom of a pan with vegetable oil heat the pan to high heat. Cook the scallops flat side down, 2 minutes on one side, flip and 40 seconds on the other side. Remove. Serve. For comparison sake, Alton Brown says you should do 1.5 minutes on each side. Either way you’ll get a fairly consistent result.

Oiling the pan.

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Searing the bottom side for 40 seconds (color will not be as strong as the 2 minute sear side).

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Finished Product. Really moist, good texture and color. 20151014_181458

Sous Vide Scallops

Recipe:

Set your water temp to 123ºF (51ºC). Seal your scallops with some butter and salt lightly. Leave in the water bath for 30 minutes. Optionally, to finish off with some color heat a pan with some butter to medium high, sear the scallops 20-30 seconds on each side maximum. Remove. Serve.

Sealing the scallops can be so tricky. Even on the food saver’s moist setting the scallops get somewhat deformed and pancake out a bit. Also, if you cook them with the round side flat it can make the final sear a bit tricky.

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123 @ 30 minutes.

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You can see the butter melt. We lightly salted the scallops prior to cooking.
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Finishing the scallops off in butter. I browned the butter a bit to help the color and did the searing on medium heat for about 30 seconds a side. 
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The result. 20151014_182227

Both these recipes are very easy to follow. Obviously, the searing recipe is even easier given the fewer steps but lets reserve judgement on which one is better until you see and hear how the results compared.

Results

Sous vide on the left pan sear on the right.

20151014_182051 As you can see they are both pretty much perfect. Nice color, warm inside but still translucent so you know they are not overcooked.20151014_182120 Another angle. 20151014_182115 seared (left) vs sous vide (right) scallop

Texture- Slight edge to sous vide.

The texture of the pan seared scallops was slightly tougher than the sous vide cooked scallops. Neither were tough but it was a slight difference. I think the increased toughness is caused by searing the scallops at high heat in the oil. This causes the muscle to seize up a tad more than the slow and more mellow sous vide and medium heat sear. Both were great.

Color – Pan sear

Cooking at higher heat allows you to get a better sear and more color. I had to brown up the butter a bit to provide more color to the sous vide scallops seared at a lower temp.

Flavor – Push

Both tasted fantastic. Obviously, the butter imparted a little more flavor but overall, grading on the product alone, the flavor was great for both.

Cook – Slight edge to Sous Vide

Both methods produce a perfectly cooked, warm translucent in the middle scallop. However, the slight texture edge makes sous vide edge out the pan sear method.

Ease of Cook – Pan Sear

Going through all the steps to seal, sous vide, then unseal and sear the scallops is much more onerous than simply pan searing the scallops right out of the gate. Its essentially twice the work. But if you want a fool proof method and aren’t starved for time I’d go sous vide for the softer more delicate texture you get.

Winner: Sous Vide Prepared Scallops

Texture is the big winner here for me. Both methods are really strong, as mentioned above, the pan sear method is certainly easier and much faster. However, the soft supple nature of the sous vide cook is hard to beat. You can’t go wrong with either method but given the extra time I would pick sous vide over solely pan seared.

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