Seared Sea Scallops in Coconut-Key Lime Curry Sauce

Aside from being a mouthful of a title, this Thai-inspired dish packs a mouthful of flavor! Sweet coconut milk, tart key limes, and spicy curry set the perfect backdrop for luscious, perfectly seared sea scallops (which I’ll teach you how to make in your own kitchen). Now I know what you’re probably thinking: This dish sounds a little too fancy for a weeknight, maybe I’ll just call in an order of Pad Thai instead. No – don’t do that! Sure, it may be easier, but come on, live a little! I’m telling you, make this simple dish tonight, Instagram your photos, then return to work tomorrow feeling like Mario Battali. I promise you’ll be a better person for it.

A note about key limes: Key limes are those adorable little mini-me’s you see in the produce section right next to the regular limes (also known as Persian limes) –  you know, the ones you’re always tempted to buy because they look so cute, but never do because you’re not quite sure how to use them. Well here’s the thing; although they’re small in size, they’re definitely not small in flavor. A little more tart than regular limes, these guys have a distinct floral note that pairs well with sweeter ingredients, like the coconut milk in this recipe. And I know from personal experience that a little bit of key lime goes a long way. I, being the overzealous person that I am, bought way too many of these babies, and now have a surplus in my kitchen (which means you’ll probably be seeing a few more key lime recipes from me soon)!IMG_9379

Seared Sea Scallops in Coconut-Key Lime Curry Sauce

Serves 4

  • 2 lb. sea scallops
  • high heat oil for frying (such as grapeseed, safflower, refined canola, or sunflower), enough to coat bottom of pan plus 1 Tbsp for sauce
  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 2 – 13.5 oz. cans of coconut milk (light or regular)
  • 3 tsp curry powder (I used red, but you could use green or yellow as well)
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp key lime juice (from about 3-4 key limes)
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
  • fresh cilantro leaves for serving (optional)


Heat oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat, add ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant and beginning to brown, about 3-4 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add coconut milk, curry powder, and sugar, whisking to combine. Add lime juice and continue to cook, whisking frequently, until thickened, about 15 minutes. (The sauce may start to separate in the beginning, but just continue to whisk it as it thickens and it will come together.) Strain sauce through a fine-mesh sieve and return to skillet, keep warm over low heat.


There are a couple very important, nay essential, things to remember when trying to achieve the perfect sear on your sea scallops, 1) The scallops should be very dry: Use a paper towel to gently press on both sides of the scallop to extract any extra moisture it may be holding, and 2) High heat is where you want to be: In order to get a nice brown crust on the outside, yet retain a soft, creamy center, you’re going to need to crank that temperature knob up as high as it will go (not to medium-high or almost-high), it absolutely needs to be on HIGH. Got it? Okay, let’s proceed…

Dry both sides of the scallops with a paper towel and generously season with sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper. IMG_9475

Set a heavy skillet (preferably cast iron) over HIGH heat and add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. You’ll need to wait until the oil is hot before placing the scallops in the pan, and you can test this by flicking a drop of water into the oil and if it pops, it’s ready. Working in several batches, carefully place 4-5 scallops in the pan (being careful not to overcrowd them), and let them sear, completely undisturbed, for 1½ minutes, then flip. If the scallops are sticking and don’t easily lift from the pan, then wait another 20-30 seconds before flipping. Cook for 1½ minutes on the second side, then transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining scallops. (You may need to add additional oil between batches.)IMG_9487IMG_9485 (Holy cow, look at that caramelization!)

Spoon a couple ladlefuls of coconut-key lime curry sauce onto 4 dinner plates and nestle scallops on top, dividing evenly among the plates. Sprinkle with fresh cracked black pepper and cilantro leaves, and serve with 1 or 2 key lime wedges.


Sidekick: Serve with a chilled glass of off-dry German Riesling, a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, or a glass of bubbly. (If you prefer red wine, a French Beaujolais is your best bet.)


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