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Seared Scallops with Cheesy Polenta

  • Pan-sear
  • Entertaining
  • Grace Parisi
  • Italian
  • 10 ingredients or less
  • Active Time:30 min
  • Total Time:45 min
  • Servings:4
  • Difficulty:Easy
Photo by Julia Gartland

As if golden seared scallops are not luxurious enough, these are served over creamy, cheesy polenta and garnished with crispy fried capers. The dish comes together in no time if using quick-cooking polenta, but for purists — and those with strong arms — regular polenta is always an option. See our Pro Tips below for proportions and cook times.


Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 cup quick-cooking polenta

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

¼ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

¼ cup neutral oil, such as canola or vegetable oil

2 tablespoons drained capers

1 pound sea scallops

1 large shallot, thinly sliced

1½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


Make the Polenta

Fill a large saucepan with 4½ cups of water and 1½ teaspoons salt and bring to a boil over high heat. While whisking, add the polenta to the pan in a steady stream. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened and tender, about 5 minutes. Watch for sputtering.  Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan, lemon zest, 2 tablespoons of the butter, and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Cover and keep warm while you prepare the capers and scallops.

Fry the Capers

Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Set a small strainer over a small heatproof bowl. Pat the capers dry between paper towels. Add the capers to the hot oil and cook, stirring occasionally, until puffed and golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the capers into the strainer to drain. Sprinkle with salt. Reserve the oil.

Cook the Scallops

Remove and discard the connective muscle along the edge of the scallops. Season with salt and pepper.

In a large nonstick or cast-iron skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the reserved caper oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the scallops and cook without turning, until deeply golden, about 5 minutes. Flip and cook just until done, 1 to 4 minutes, depending on the size of the scallop. Transfer the scallops to a plate.

Make the Sauce

Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining butter and shallot to the skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallot is softened and the butter is lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice and ¼ cup water. Increase the heat to high and cook until the liquid is slightly reduced, about 2 minutes, shaking and swirling the pan occasionally. Return the scallops to the skillet, along with any accumulated juices. Turn to coat in the sauce, simmering just until heated through.

Finish and Serve

Stir a few tablespoons of water into the polenta to thin if necessary. Spoon the polenta into shallow bowls and top with the scallops and pan sauce, dividing evenly. Garnish with parsley and crispy capers and serve immediately

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Pro Tips

Pair it Up

Match the richness of scallops and polenta with a medium bodied, buttery chardonnay or smooth Italian white like a gavi or soave.

Level It Up

Cook 1 cup of regular polenta in 5 cups of water over low heat, stirring frequently, for about 45 minutes.


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