Seared Scallops with Fennel Cream

Do you want to know the trick to getting a nice golden sear on scallops?

The secret to searing scallops is they have to be absolutely dry when you drop them into a hot pan with oil.  I had lovely, large, frozen Olivia  scallops from my Costco. (Do not use bay scallops -these are tiny scallops that you would use in a chowder for example.) I defrosted them and then stored them in layers of paper towel in a plastic container in my fridge til I was ready to cook them.  I took them out of the container and laid them out between 2 new layers of paper towels to pat them dry.

If you don’t take the time to do this you really end up steaming them instead of searing them.

The other thing you want to be conscious of with scallops is to be sure buy ‘dry’ scallops.  These are natural scallops that retain their natural flavour and sweetness.  Scallops naturally have a lot of water content so even though they are ‘dry’ they still have to be drained on paper towels while defrosting and patted dry.

‘Wet’ scallops (also known as soaked or treated)  have been soaked in a bath of sodium tripolyphosphate which is supposed to help them retain moisture and texture if they are frozen at sea.   The taste is altered…I think they taste like fertilizer-although I have never eaten fertilizer but you know how you know something would taste based on the way it smells? Have you ever cooked scallops in a frying pan and they end up almost floating in a bath of liquid? Yuck..  dry scallops patted dry don’t release a ton of liquid into the pan.

If it a fresh seafood counter I always ask. Sodium tripolyphosphate is considered and allowable food additive in Canada up to .15% and a such must be listed in the ingredients so check your label if you are not sure for packaged scallops.

In this recipe the natural sweetness of fennel cream complements the inherent sweetness of scallops.  And then.. to top it all off… there is a lemon syrup that is actually a simple syrup flavoured with lemon.  Add a pinch of sea salt as you plate them and you get an incredible hit of salty sweet.

Next time I make this I am going to double the fennel cream when I make it because I think it would be an interesting soup base as well.  I will have to experiment with that and get back to you!

You will want to serve these with something to sop up the last drop of sauce. I served it with warm Greek pita points but any light bread or roll would work.

This will serve 4 as an appetizer or as a lunch portion if you add a side salad.

Seared Scallops with Fennel Cream

Seared Scallops with Fennel Cream

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Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 4 servings


  • 1 lb large dry sea scallops U15 per pound
  • canola oil for frying (should cover bottom of pan generously)

Fennel Cream

  • 1 bulb fresh fennel stalks trimmed off
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Lemon syrup

  • peel of 1 lemon (use a vegetable parer to get thin slices of peel without the white pith
  • water to cover the lemon peel
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • Coarse sea salt for garnish


Lemon Syrup

  • Cover lemon peel with water in a microwaveable cup. Bring to a boil in microwave and then strain liquid off. Repeat.
  • Combine 1/3 cup sugar and water in a small sauce pan. Add drained lemon peel and simmer 20-30 minutes. Mixture should be very thick. Blend in blender until smooth and glossy. Keep warm or reheat gently in the microwave.

Fennel Cream

  • Finely slice fennel bulb. Cover bulb slices in a saucepan with the cream/milk mixture and salt. Simmer about 15 minutes until fennel is soft.
  • Transfer fennel and 1/4 cup of the cream mixture to a food processor of blender and puree. Add more of the cream mixture as needed to create a smooth purée. (I used all the cream mixture with my bulb). Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Keep warm or reheat gently in the microwave.


  • Defrost scallops if frozen. Allow thawed or fresh scallops to drain on layers of paper towel. Just before cooking put them between 2 new layers of paper towel and press on them to release all liquid.
  • Heat canola oil in a heavy skillet. Add scallops. Scallops should sizzle when they hit the oil. Do not over crowd.
  • When you can see the bottom edge turn golden brown (about 2-3 minutes turn over for another minute or so. You will be able to see the center is opaque. Do not over-cook.
  • Remove scallops to paper towel to drain off excess oil.
  • To assemble drizzle a couple of tablespoons of the fennel cream in the center of your serving plate. Divide scallops and position them on fennel cream. Top with a drizzle of the lemon syrup.
  • Garnish with a touch of coarse sea salt. This is essential to get the salt/sweet combination!
  • Serve with warm pita points or rolls.


You can also serve this on a loose bunch of arugula, watercress or other light green.
Recipe credit Canada's 100 Best.

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