6 Simple Seafood Appetizers to Impress Your Guests


Seafood isn’t as expensive as you think it is (especially if you wait until it’s on sale at the supermarket), and it makes an elegant addition to any party when served as an appetizer.

To make your (Academy Awards?) soiree a little swankier — without spending too much more — here are six from-the-sea-inspired starters to give your guests something (else) to cheer about. (See also: Frugal Oscar Party Ideas)

Beer-Battered Shrimp with Strawberry Sauce

A few years ago, while in Puerto Rico, I stumbled upon a small cafe in downtown San Juan that had a more adventurous menu than many of the other restaurants serving up plain ol’ arroz con pollo. The dish was tempura shrimp with strawberry sauce, and as soon as I returned home I tried to duplicate the recipe. It worked like a charm, with a little help from Paula Deen.

You’ll need one to two pounds of large tail-on shrimp, depending on how many you’re feeding, peeled and deveined. To make the batter, pour one cup of flour into a medium bowl, and season with a half-teaspoon of salt and a quarter-teaspoon each of garlic powder, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Add a cup of beer (Budweiser is best for full flavor, but I’ve also used Corona for a citrusy kick) and mix until just blended. Dip and fry the shrimp in a pot of oil heated to 350 degrees. When the shrimp are golden brown, drain them on a paper towel and lightly salt while they’re still hot.

Meanwhile, add one cup of good strawberry jam or preserves and two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar to a small saucepan on medium-low heat. Combine the ingredients and cook until the preserves have melted and reduced slightly. Serve the shrimp with the dipping sauce on the side.

Hot Crab Dip

A craving for crab is necessary if you grew up in Baltimore like I did.

There’s a summer ritual that includes a bushel of fresh crabs steamed in beer and Old Bay and dumped in a heaping pile on a newspaper-lined patio table. I was considered an outcast when it came to this rite of passage, however, because I think it’s absurd to sit there for hours and eat half an ounce of meat from each crustacean carcass; you’ll get tired of picking before you’ve had your fill.

Instead, I prefer my crab alternative ways, like in this hot crab dip recipe. I’ve made my own adjustments to it — no matter how it’s prepared, Baltimore tradition requires crabs to be served without bells and whistles — so I leave out the capers and artichoke hearts. My philosophy: if it’s not broke, don’t make it taste like pond scum.

Steamed Mussels

Mussels may be considered bottom of the barrel when it comes to shellfish, but if you’re a seafood lover, these bivalves offer the best bang for your buck.

In North America, late fall through spring is the best time to serve them, as they’re at peak flavor about six months after their spawning season, which is typically early summer 'round these parts.

Before you start preparing your fishy feast, inspect your stash. Mussels must be cooked alive, and you’ll know if each is alive if it’s closed or closes when you touch it. If it’s open and stays open after handling, throw it out. You don’t want to mess with paralytic shellfish poisoning.

From start to finish, this mussels in white wine recipe should take 15 minutes tops.

Oysters Rockefeller

Oysters are considered by some to be an aphrodisiac (so perhaps you’ll want to keep this recipe between you and your sweetie), but I had no idea that among ethicists they’re considered appropriate food for vegans and vegetarians. It seems that these mollusks are more closely related to plants than animals. They don’t feel pain due to a nonexistent central nervous system, and 95% of oysters are sustainably farmed and harvested. In fact, the Seafood Watch list considers oysters a “Best Choice."

I think you’ll feel the same about Oysters Rockefeller.

Salmon Canapes

You won’t even need an oven for this salmon canapes recipe that has just five ingredients.

Personally, I would opt for regular cream cheese instead of reduced fat (the former has more flavor), and I’d use plain bagel chips instead of fresh rye to avoid soggy bread. But I’m not eating at your house, so no need to fatten up your guests on my behalf.

Maple-Broiled Scallops

Once upon a time I was a shrimp-and-crab-only man. I didn’t trust other shellfish — and I still don’t when it’s served raw — but I took a chance on scallops one night at a restaurant with my parents.

To my surprise, I rather enjoyed the mollusks that I feared would taste too fishy and cause me to return them to the kitchen and reorder. Now I make them at home for my party guests, which is always a big hit.

This four-ingredient, sweet-and-spicy maple-broiled scallops recipe is their favorite — and it’ll be yours, too.

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Andrea Karim's picture

Ooh, I love me some crab dip!

Meg Favreau's picture

Likewise! Although I might throw those capers back in there.

I love making coconut shrimp for guests -- it's not the classiest-looking dish, but it's easy and tastes sooo good.

Mikey Rox's picture

That's blasphemy, Meg. I'll make it for you sometime and you'll see why it's better my way. Like most things. :)

Meg Favreau's picture

See, Mikey, I'm from New England stock. I say it's blasphemy to eat lobster in any way but from the shell, but crab is fair game for whatever (you probably don't want me to start in on my affinity for crab nachos...).

I will certainly never refuse an offer for free crab dip, though.

Andrea Karim's picture

You can always make artichoke dip separately, I suppose. ;) My sister taught me a very easy, fairly low-fat recipe for artichoke dip:

1 can artichoke hearts or bottoms
4 oz light sour cream
big handful low-fat mozzarella
1 cup salsa verde

Crush up the artichokes and cook in a saucepan with salsa verde over medium heat until they are dry-ish. Throw in other ingredients and melt over low heat. Add salt (probably not needed) and pepper to taste.

You can vary the amounts if you want it creamier, or artichoke-ier or whatever. It's a good dip to make for parties because there's usually a vegetarian in the group somewhere.

I have never tried making coconut shrimp, but now I must!

Marla Walters's picture

Crab dip, here I come. But like Meg, I'm putting in the capers and also the artichokes. Mikey, now I am starving!