Featured Chef: Wes Choplin Shows Us How To Pan-Sear Scallops

by | In the Kitchen

Stuffed Artichoke Bottoms


CORNELIUS NC: Owner/Chef Wes Choplin of Choplin’s Steak & Seafood invited me into his kitchen to show me, and you, how to pan-sear scallops. He described his recipes and his techniques for creating a truly gourmet meal at home.


“Fresh ingredients—always!”

               —Chef Wes Choplin


Chef Choplin shares a professional secret with us…

Buy fresh sea scallops. The large ones, usually 2 inches in diameter. Chef Choplin shared with us a secret about sea scallops—there are two kinds: wet and dry. Wet scallops are soaked in a saline solution. They look shiny. Dry scallops look dull. The dry scallops have not been treated. While there is nothing wrong with wet scallops, the dry scallops brown better and taste better.

There are about 10 scallops to the pound. Serve portion sizes in odd numbers—they look better on the plate. Chef Choplin typically serves 5 scallops per person. For smaller appetites, serve 3.


Pan-seared scallops over rice, topped with wilted spinach. Drizzled with a Marsala, Sambuca sauce. Garnished with sprigs of thyme.


The Recipe

Serves: 1 to 2.



5 sea scallops

2 tablespoons canola oil or a lighter non-extra virgin, olive oil

salt & pepper to taste


For the sauce

1/2 teaspoon garlic (minced)

2 ounces Marsala (a fortified wine)

1 teaspoon Sambuca (anise-flavored liqueur)

3 ounces heavy cream


For the wilted spinach

NOTE: any fresh vegetables that you like to sauté will also work beautifully with this dish.

10 ounces fresh spinach (a big handful of leaves)

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 ounce of balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon garlic (minced)

salt & pepper to taste


For garnish

1 or 2 sprigs of thyme


To Start

Prepare your favorite rice pilaf, brown rice, basmati rice, or skip the rice altogether if you are on a “carb-less diet.” Any of these options can take 20 to 50 minutes to prepare.



Pan-sear vs. sauté

Pan-sear is always performed over medium to high heat. Sauté is performed over low to medium heat.


Chef Choplin’s Advice

Measure and set out all of your ingredients in groupings for the scallops, the sauce, and the wilted spinach. The procedures for each of these dishes are quick. When I watched him, he had finished all three of these recipes in about 10 minutes.





Pat scallops dry with a clean paper towel

Season both sides with salt and pepper.

In a medium sauté pan, place 2 tablespoons of canola oil over medium to high heat.

NOTE: there will be light smoke with this recipe, make sure your vent fan is on or your windows are open.

Wait a minute or two, until you see the oil shimmering and a light smoke rising from the pan.






Place the scallops in the pan using tongs.

Let the scallops sit in the pan for 2 minutes. You will see a crust forming on the bottom. Do not move the scallops or the crust with not form. You are looking for an 1/8 inch brown crust on the bottom.







Use the tongs to turn the scallops.

Wait another minute to 1.5 minutes for medium to medium-rare scallops. (You can add another minute for a more well-done scallop. Chef Choplin cautions that over-cooked scallops are either burnt or rubbery.)


Remove the scallops from the pan and set on a paper towel to dry.

Dump any extra oil out of the pan. (Be careful, it will be VERY hot.)



Using the same pan, make the sauce

Chef Choplin flames the Sambuca when he adds it. (Not recommended for the home cook.)


There will be residual oil in the pan. Place the pan back on medium heat.

Add 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic. Cook about 30 seconds.

Add 2 ounces of Marsala wine.

Stir the wine, picking up the “fond” which are the crusty bits leftover from cooking the scallops.

Add 1 teaspoon of Sambuca.








Add 3 ounces heavy cream.










Reduce the sauce for 1 or 2 minutes until you can coat the back of a spoon (see photo). The proper term is called nappé.

At this stage take the sauce off the heat, but leave it in the pan.





In another pan, wilt the spinach


Add 1 tablespoon of canola oil. (You want a light coating on the pan. If you are using a larger pan, use a little more oil.)

At the same time, add 1 ounce of balsamic vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon of garlic. Once you smell the garlic (about 30 seconds), add the spinach.


Wilt it for 2 minutes. The balsamic will make it brown so don’t cook it much past 2 minutes.


To plate your dish


If you prepared rice, place it in the center of the plate.

Place the scallops around the rice.

Place a tong-full of the wilted spinach on top of the rice.






Before drizzling your sauce, give it a stir to see if it is too thick. Thin the sauce by adding a little broth, water, or cream and placing back on the heat for just a moment.







Drizzle the sauce over the the scallops and around the plate.

Garnish with a spring of thyme.





Try the recipe at home and send us a photo

Send us a photo of your dish and we will post it on our Facebook page. Email Ellen Stafford, our Managing Editor, at ehs@ehstafford.com.




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