Seared Sea Scallops with Tomato Red Onion and Balsamic Salsa

5 from 1 vote
30 minutes
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Seared Sea Scallops with Tomato, Red Onion and Balsamic Salsa is a light, elegant, summery restaurant-quality dish for two that’s also super easy!

Photo of Seared Sea Scallops with Tomato, Red Onion and Balsamic Salsa with asparagus on white plate.

Do you love sea scallops but think you can only enjoy them in a restaurant?  I’ll admit, for a long time, dining out was the only time I ate them because I always heard how tricky they were to cook.

Once you get a few basics down, they’re super-simple to cook and you’ll love having them for a quick and easy, elegant, restaurant-quality dinner!

Before heading to the store for scallops, here’s some important information on purchasing, handling and how to get a proper sear.

What to look for when buying scallops:

  • Bay scallops (on the left) are small in size and are best used in a soup, stew or pasta dish.
  • The sea scallop (on the right) is the one you want for this dish and to sear.
  • The best way to keep them straight is to think of the body of water in their name:  A bay is smaller than a sea, therefore a bay scallop is smaller than a sea scallop.

Photo showing the difference between a bay scallops and sea scallop.

  • Diver scallops are carefully hand-harvested [by divers] and are of the highest quality.  Most scallops sold commercially, however, are mechanically harvested.  That’s not a terrible thing, but because of that, they may contain sand.
  • Scallops purchased fresh from a reputable source are always best.  I’ve had good luck with packaged frozen sea scallops–you just need to know what to look for.
  • Make sure sea scallops are the only ingredient listed (untreated are generally referred to as dry-packed).
  • Avoid scallops treated with sodium tripolyphosphate (STP) or any other chemical (treated scallops are referred to as wet-packed).  This treatment causes the scallops to exude a substantial amount of liquid when put to heat, making them difficult to brown.

Photo of a bag of scallops showing the only ingredient is sea scallops.

  • Wild-caught from the USA is always a good idea with any fish or seafood!

Photo showing scallops are Product of USA Wild Caught.

How to prepare scallops for cooking:

  • Once you have the correct type of scallop, some minor prep is important.  Frozen scallops should be thawed uncovered overnight in the refrigerator on a plate lined with paper towels to wick away moisture.
  • You may see a small side muscle still attached that runs against the grain of the scallop.  If you do, remove it as it can be tough and chewy when cooked.  (No worries….it peels off easily.)

Photo showing the side muscle on a scallop.

  • After removing the side muscle, give the scallops a quick rinse under cold water.  If any sand is hiding, this quick rinse will help dislodge it.
  • Don’t soak or overdo the rinsing as scallops already contain a fair amount of water.  Over-rinsing or soaking can ruin the texture of the scallop.

Photo of scallops being rinsed with running water in a sieve.

  • Pat dry with paper towels and you’re ready to cook!

Photo showing scallops being patted dry with paper towels.

How to sear sea scallops:

  • Start with a large enough pan that allows plenty of room so moisture evaporates quickly.  Crowding a pan with any protein causes the protein to steam rather than brown.  The oil should be quite hot, shimmering and ready to smoke.

Photo showing oil being heated in a nonstick skillet.

  • Season the scallops generously with salt and black pepper…..

Photo of uncooked scallops seasoned with salt and black pepper.

….And you’re ready to roll!

  • Gently place the scallops in the pan.
  • Here is where patience is a virtue:  Do not flip the scallops until you’re confident a golden-brown crust has formed.  This will take two to three minutes.
  • Then, being careful not to disturb the scallops too much, do a quick peek underneath the first scallop you placed in the pan to see if the golden-brown crust has formed.

Photo of sea scallops being seared in nonstick skillet.

  • When the crust has formed, gently flip the scallops and cook briefly on the other side–about one minute.
  • Scallops are cooked properly when they are just slightly firm to the touch and go from translucent to opaque.
  • There will be a small amount of carryover cooking, so it’s best to take them off the heat a bit early.  In the case of scallops. undercooked is better than overcooked.

How beautiful are these scallops?

Photo of nicely browned sea scallops in nonstick skillet.

Now…. onto this light, elegant restaurant-quality dish for two:  Seared Sea Scallops with Tomato, Red Onion and Balsamic Salsa.

How to make Seared Sea Scallops with Tomato, Red Onion and Balsamic Salsa:

Sea scallops have a slightly sweet, slightly briny flavor.  When seared, this distinct flavor only needs to be complemented–not covered up.  The mild acidity of tomatoes and balsamic vinegar in this bruschetta-inspired salsa is the perfect pairing with scallops.

I like to use plum (or Roma) tomatoes for this salsa because they keep their texture when mixed with the balsamic vinegar.  Plum tomatoes are also one of the few tomato varieties of decent quality available outside of the summer tomato season.  Make the salsa before searing the scallops then add the fresh basil just before serving.

Photo of four tomatoes in stainless steel colander.

Photo of diced tomatoes in glass mixing bowl being stirred with spoon.

Photo of tomato salsa and fresh basil being stirred in glass mixing bowl.

Scallops pair beautifully with vegetables.  I did a quick saute with fresh asparagus.  When serving in other ways, try a pea puree, cauliflower puree or creamed corn.  You’ll soon be as hooked on sea scallops as I am!

Close-up photo of Seared Sea Scallops with Tomato, Red Onion and Balsamic Salsa on white plate.

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Seared Sea Scallops with Tomato, Red Onion and Balsamic Salsa with roasted asparagus on white plate.

Seared Sea Scallops with Tomato Red Onion and Balsamic Salsa

5 from 1 vote

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By: Carol | From A Chef's Kitchen
Seared Sea Scallops with Tomato, Red Onion and Balsamic Salsa is a light, elegant, restaurant-quality dish for two that's also super easy!
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Fish and Seafood
Cuisine Italian
Servings 2
Calories 181 kcal



  • 4 medium plum tomatoes - about 1 pound, seeded and chopped
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 2 tablespoons good-quality balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper - to taste
  • 1 large sprig fresh basil - thinly sliced


  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 large sea scallops - side muscle removed, rinsed and patted dry



  • Combine tomatoes, onion, balsamic vinegar, salt and black pepper in a small bowl and mix well. Set aside.
  • When ready to serve, stir in fresh basil.


  • Heat olive oil over medium-high heat until oil is hot, shimmering and ready to smoke.
  • Generously season scallops with salt and black pepper.
  • Place in the pan and cook 2-3 minutes on the first side or until a nice golden crust has formed.
  • Turn the scallops over and cook 1 minute on the other side. Immediately remove from heat.
  • Serve salsa with scallops.


Serving: 2 | Calories: 181kcal | Carbohydrates: 20g | Protein: 15g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 24mg | Sodium: 831mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 11g

These are estimated values generated from a nutritional database using unbranded products. Please do your own research with the products you're using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.

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  1. Not to toot my own horn but I can really get my seafood to shine BUT scallops.I’ve made them twice and they were so-so. Your tutorial has given me the incentive to try again. You’re right — they are expensive so that’s why we’ve held off. I love sea scallops. I’ll give it another go and see how it goes. One other recipe my sons make MUCH better than I do — guacamole. 🙁 Anxious to try this recipe — thank you.