The fresh flavor of Sweet Diver Sea Scallops is front and center in this seafood gratin recipe. “Capesante Gratinate” or Scallops Gratin is one of the easiest Italian seafood recipes you’ll ever make. And it only takes 6 to 8 minutes under the broiler for these little gems to cook which means you can have a proper seafood dinner ready in 15 minutes.
These are healthy, restaurant-quality, perfectly broiled crispy-edged scallops. Be sure to soak up all the sweet scallop-infused olive oil and Parm with some good bread (it’s amazing). And if you’re like us, after you’ve finished off the last scallop and sweet coral roe, you’ll be using your fork to scrape off anything else you can from the shells
What’s the Difference Between Diver Scallops, Sea Scallops, and Bay Scallops?
The most obvious difference between the family of scallops is the size difference between Sea scallops and Diver scallops and their smaller counterpart, the Bay scallop. Sea scallops are about 3x the size of Bay scallops. Many of the Sea scallops you’ll find are actually farmed nowadays making them a sustainable option for dinner. However, true Diver scallops are hand-harvested by experienced divers from the ocean. If you’re eating seared scallops at your favorite restaurant, these are most likely going to be the Sea scallops variety.
Whereas, the smaller bay scallops are used in soups, seafood stews, and casseroles. True American Bay scallops are only found in bays and harbors on the east coast. Much of the bay scallops sold in-market today come from farms in China and elsewhere, so be sure to understand the origin of where your scallops are coming from so you can ensure you’re getting the best product possible.
Ingredients for Making Easy Scallops au Gratin (or Capesante Gratinate)
You’ll be happy to know you only need a few simple ingredients to make scallop gratin. We no longer add parsley to ours because we just want to taste the pure sweet scallop ocean flavor of shell-in scallops. If you love the taste or look of fresh chopped parsley go ahead and add it.
- 4 large scallops on the half shell (or shucked scallops), patted dry
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup fine breadcrumbs
- 1 to 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano, or Parmesan cheese (optional, but recommended)
- sea salt to taste
- parsley (optional)
- melted butter, (optional)
How Long Does it Take to Cook Scallops?
Au gratin scallops take anywhere from 4 to 8 minutes to cook under a preheated broiler in the oven creating crispy golden edges and a perfectly cooked tender sweet scallop. Of course, larger scallops take a little longer than smaller scallops so keep an eye on them.
If you’re pan-searing scallops, it takes even less time. Large seared Diver scallops cook on the first side for about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes before they’re flipped and cooked for 1 1/2 minutes more (for a total cooking time of 3 to 3/12 minutes). So, it’s possible to have a delicious scallop dinner ready in 10 minutes as long as you’ve got a good salad or side dish to pair with them.
How to Cook Scallops Gratin
- Preheat the oven. Turn the oven broiler function to high.
- Dry the scallops. Pat the scallops completely dry using a kitchen towel or paper towel.
- Season and dress the scallops. Sprinkle each scallop with a little sea salt or kosher salt and fine Italian bread crumbs. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil (and a little melted butter if desired). Sprinkle grated Parmigiano or Grana Padano over each scallop and place them onto a heat-proof oven dish.
- Broil the scallops. Place scallops on the top shelf of the preheated oven and cook them directly under the broiler for 4 to 8 minutes depending on the size of the scallops, or until the breadcrumbs and cheese become golden brown and slightly crispy. Be sure to also eat the pink-orange colored “coral” or “roe” of the scallop — it’s delicious Enjoy!
How to Buy the Freshest Sweetest Scallops
When you’re buying scallops it’s important to get the freshest possible from a trusted and informed seafood purveyor. But not everyone lives in an area where you have a seafood shop in your neighborhood or even a seafood counter at your local grocery store. No matter what the options are, there are always things to consider when trying to buy the best scallops available whether fresh or frozen. Here are a few tips to help you buy the best available in your area.
- Ask your fishmonger for “dry scallops”. Make sure to buy farmed scallops or U.S. wild-caught scallops to ensure that they are sustainable. Scallops are naturally made up of about 3/4 water, but in the time between being harvested, they start to lose water. To help offset the loss of moisture, often commercial fisheries soak the fresh scallops in a solution of salts and water known as “STP” (sodium tripolyphosphate). This preservative solution helps plump up the scallops and keep them fresher longer. Sadly, this also means that you’re paying for extra water and the product is never going to taste the way a pure fresh scallop actually tastes. Gone is the fresh, sweet ocean flavor of pure untampered scallops. “Wet scallops” on the other hand have been injected with STP and for all the reasons just mentioned, are inferior in every way to “dry scallops”. Not only do wet scallops have this extra water-salt solution in them, but it bleeds out when being cooked. So, if you’re trying to get perfectly seared golden brown crusted scallops, it’s a lot more difficult to do with the extra water (although not impossible). Some even say the STP solution tastes like soap.
- Buy fresh Diver sea scallops. Whenever possible, buy large diver scallops (in the shell are even better). They’re easier to sustainably harvest because these scallops have been hand-plucked from the sea by experienced divers who know which ones to choose for consumption. Plus, that little coral piece that’s part of this bivalve mollusk, is SO delicious and should always be eaten and never wasted! I’m not sure who throws this piece out but can only assume they don’t know any better.
- Use your eyes and nose when shopping for scallops (like any other seafood). Scallops should not be milky in color, or full of water. They should be slightly moist and smell of the sea. You don’t want any funky smells! On the flip side, if they have zero smell and are stark white throughout, they’ve most likely been soaked in STP. And I probably don’t need to say this, but scallops should never smell like ammonia (you know, that cat pee smell no one wants to eat). If you happen to see a peachy-pink-colored scallop, it’s female and the taste is identical when cooked to the male (white) scallops.
- Cook scallops the same day you buy them. If you know you’re going to buy scallops, bring a cold pack bag to store them in while you shop and for the trip back home. Get them into the fridge as soon as you can and store them in the coldest compartment. If your fridge is a little janky, you may even want to place the scallops in a bowl of ice in your fridge. Be sure not to remove them from their packaging before placing them on ice. You don’t want the raw scallops to be in contact with the ice itself.
- If all you can get are treated scallops pat them dry before cooking. Treated or “wet scallops” are found just about everywhere nowadays. If this is all you can get and you really want to try this recipe, be sure to pat them dry before cooking with them. Use a clean kitchen towel (or paper towel) to soak up any moisture. Then place them directly onto a dry towel (on a plate) and pop them back into the fridge and leave them uncovered for 30 minutes to a couple of hours. This helps alleviate some of the moisture issues especially with “wet scallops”. For dry scallops, I typically pat them a tiny bit first and then use them right away.
- If you can only buy frozen scallops look at the texture and the dates. If you only have access to frozen scallops, don’t fret. There are often good-quality frozen options available. Sometimes the frozen scallops may even be a superior product to the “fresh” depending on where you live and shop. Be sure to look for packages that don’t have ice chips all over the meat. Make sure the package hasn’t been torn or ripped. If any scallops look “feathery” on top this probably means they’re old and drying out or freezer burned.
Are Scallops Endangered?
Below are a Few of our Favorite Local Northern Italian Restaurant’s Scallops Gratin
When Scallops are on the menu, we’ll be ordering them. The below photos are some of the various ways Capesante Gratinate is prepared in Italy. These show some of the scallops we’ve ordered from various restaurants and you’ll notice they each have a slightly different version and all of them are delicious.
They each have a few things in common: they’re all served on the half-shell, they always include extra virgin olive oil, and have some amount of fine Italian bread crumbs on top and some use parsley and add plenty of butter. Use these for inspiration for how to dress your own homemade scallops gratin.
What to serve with Scallops au Gratin (Capesante Gratinata)
Whether or not you eat these scallops as an appetizer or as the main entrée, here are a few of our favorite dishes to enjoy with them.
- Spaghetti with clams (spaghetti alle vongole)
- Shrimp Pasta w/Garganelli (the Italian Way)
- Perfect Pan-Seared Zucchini
- Mussels w/Sausage + Mushrooms in White Wine Sauce
- Triple Shrimp Trighetto Pasta (Creamy Shrimp Pasta)
- Shrimp Fettuccini Alfredo Pasta Recipe (w/Parmigiano Cream Sauce)
- Cajun Style Royal Red Shrimp Pasta for One (or a crowd)
- Delicious Shrimp Scampi for Two (or a Crowd)
- Starburst Vinaigrette with mixed greens
- 4-Minute Perfect Pan-Seared Shrimp
Scallops au Gratin (Capesante Gratinata) tips + tricks + FAQ’s
- Do scallops have shells? You can see by the photos that Scallops are bivalve mollusks that are enclosed in a beautiful shell much like an oyster, clam, or mussel. I save these shells, wash them thoroughly and then use them to bake shrimp gratin.
- What’s the best seasoning for scallops? The best seasoning for making scallops au gratin is sea salt, olive oil, butter, and grated cheese with breadcrumbs. But if you’re pan-searing scallops, the best seasoning is simple sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper with extra virgin olive oil and/or butter. The important thing to remember when choosing what to season shellfish with is that the taste of the scallop should really be front and center.
- What should the internal temp of scallops be? What temperature should I cook scallops? 130°F/54.4°C is the internal temperature scallops should be cooked to. Scallops are a lean protein source so they should be cooked fast and at high heat. Because they’re so lean, they require fat like olive oil or butter to be used while they’re cooking. Cook to an internal temp of 130°F until the meat is milky in color and the scallops become opaque and firm.
- How long do you bake scallops? I prefer to broil scallops which are a lean protein source that need to cook quickly and at high heat. When broiling or baking scallops do not cook for longer than 8 minutes, or you’ll end up with a rubbery texture instead of sweet, tender scallops.
- How many scallops per person? If you’re serving sea scallops as an appetizer, count on 2-3 large scallops per person. On the other hand, if you’re serving scallops as an entrée or main course, serve 4-5 scallops per person. The average portion of scallops is 3.5 ounces or 100g per person. This is usually around 4-5 large sea scallops. I like to plan for about 150g (just shy of 5 1/2 ounces) per person which is a nice and generous portion.
- Raw scallops — Can you eat scallops raw? Yes, unless you are pregnant, or your doctor otherwise advises you against eating raw scallops, you can definitely eat them. They’re delicious and sweet. Just be warned that eating any raw seafood including scallops comes with some risks. If you eat raw scallops that aren’t fresh or have been poorly handled it can be unsafe to eat them. Only eat raw scallops if they have been freshly caught, cleaned, and handled properly and you trust your food source.
- Can you have scallops when pregnant? This is definitely something to discuss with your doctor before eating scallops during pregnancy. All resources say pregnant women should never eat raw scallops. However, most advice states that pregnant women can safely eat cooked scallops if they reach an internal temperature of 145°F (which is way past the point of a “perfectly” cooked scallop with an internal temp of 130°F). They might be a bit chewy, but if you’re having a craving and your doctor says it’s ok, then by all means. Speak to your doctor and only take advice from them, not the Internet♡ !
- Cooking scallops from frozen can be just as tasty as fresh – here’s how. When cooking frozen scallops, give them plenty of time to thaw in the fridge (overnight is best). Pat them dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels and when you think you’ve gotten them pretty dry, place them on a paper towel-lined plate in the fridge, uncovered for at least an hour and up to 3. When you’re ready to cook them, remove them from the fridge, and pat them dry again. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Heat a cast-iron skillet (or another heavy-bottomed skillet to high heat (just before it begins to smoke), drizzle it with olive oil, and place the scallops (seasoned side down) into the skillet and DO NOT TOUCH THEM for at least 1 full minutes or 1 1/2 minutes until they are golden brown. Season the tops with salt and pepper, flip them over, and cook just until golden and crispy on the outside and translucent (just in the middle part), and slightly milky-colored on the inside. I typically don’t cook pan-seared scallops for longer than a total of 2 1/2 to 3 minutes or less depending on their if they’re smaller. The key is to make sure your pan is smoking hot before you add the scallops and leave space in between them so as not to overcrowd them in the pan (which would steam them instead of sear them).