Scallops cook quickly, are low in fat and go well as a stand-alone dish or an ingredient among many. Once you've mastered the technique of cooking them properly, integrating them into your menus is easy. A simple scallop appetizer is an elegant beginning to a meal or an easy hors d'oeuvre at your next party.
It's very difficult to find fresh scallops in the shell in the United States because they're highly perishable. Supermarkets sell fresh and frozen scallops out of the shell in a variety of sizes. The most economical are bay scallops, usually used as part of another dish because they're small. Sea scallops stand alone as a main course or appetizer, but they're more expensive. Thaw frozen scallops in the fridge. In a pinch, thaw them in the bag in a sink with a couple of inches of tepid water in the bottom. Using hot water or the defrost setting on the microwave will cook them. If the scallops have a strong odor, soak them in milk before you use them. A properly cooked scallop is opaque and slightly firm. If it's rubbery, it's overcooked.
On Top of the Stove
If you've got large scallops, a quick saute on the top of the stove is an easy way to make an appetizer in about 10 minutes. Heat butter seasoned with salt, pepper and a whisper of fresh garlic until it foams. Add the scallops and cook. When they're almost done, turn up the heat to brown both sides. Set the drained scallop on a small lettuce leaf, garnish with a sliver of red bell pepper and put a dollop of sauce on the side. Smaller scallops release a lot of water when they cook, especially if they've been frozen. This can interfere with getting a nice color on the outside. A simple workaround is to drain the scallops when they're almost done, add more butter to the pan and finish them as you would a large scallop. Set three or four on the lettuce leaf, garnish and serve.
In the Oven
Angels on Horseback is a classic appetizer preparation using bacon and oysters that's easily adapted for scallops. It requires more prep work, and you'll need to be able to keep an eye on them when they're in the oven, but it's an easy appetizer nonetheless. Use good bacon and large scallops for this recipe. Cut a slice of bacon in half crosswise and wrap it around the circumference of the scallop. Secure it with a wooden toothpick if the bacon doesn't want to stay in place. Bake or broil the combination until the scallops are cooked through. Precook the bacon to shorten the oven cooking time. Put a small spoonful of tartar sauce or your favorite salad dressing on a small plate and set the cooked scallop on top of it.
Broiling or grilling scallops on skewers is a very easy appetizer preparation. Buy wooden skewers in the Asian foods department of the supermarket and soak them in water for half an hour. Break them in half and have the kids thread one sea scallop or two or three bay scallops on each skewer. Broil or grill and serve them on the skewer. Add more grownup tastes by basting the scallops with a mango sauce, teriyaki or garlic butter. If you have the time, quarter lemons and thread the wedges onto separate skewers. Grill them and serve alongside the scallops.