“The combination of briny, juicy oyster, clad in crisp, salty bacon is incredibly savoury. It is almost heavenly”
-Lindsay Bareham and Simon Hopkinson, The Prawn Cocktail Years
Bacon seems to make everything taste more interesting – rich, smokey, saltiness brings out the best particularly as a complement to fish and seafood, and to the sweetness of fruit. These amuse-bouches allay the pangs of hunger while awaiting a late dinner. There’s lots of appropriate music to listen to below as you consider the options.
Originally angels on horseback were made with fresh oysters (a white filling, hence ‘angels’), and I am not too keen on them (they can taste like phlegm!) However, smoked oysters are wonderful as well as easy (you buy them ready cooked in a tin).
“Angels on Horseback might well follow this [crêpes Suzette], for few savouries bear comparison with them…The piece of buttered toast which carries these angelic mouthfuls must be the horse.”
Good Food on the AGA, Ambrose Heath, written in the 1930s
Devils on horseback have the bacon wrapped around a dried fruit – prunes (a dark, sinister filling, hence ‘devils’), apricots (with sage), and sometimes dates stuffed with mango chutney. For a bit of added fire you can soak the prunes first in cognac or Armagnac. Devils on horseback were often served as a savoury course (on toast with a watercress or rocket salad) but now they would also make a good starter. Serve with a glass of damson gin.
You can also wrap bacon around fresh fruit – figs or persimmons.
“Prunes are black as hell and bloated, particularly if they have been pre-soaked in tea that has a generous slug of Armagnac added to it”
also from The Prawn Cocktail Years
A rather nice alternative to the fruit or the oysters is to use fried chicken livers and make chickens on horseback, or to use mashed up tinned (in oil) sardines and make sardines on horseback (the mind boggles!).
Chestnuts – the type you buy ready-cooked and peeled – are also good. So are chipolatas (pigs in blankets) which are good served with goose or turkey. Put the wrapped chipolatas (one slice of bacon to each sausage) on a baking tray and roast of half an hour.
Or you can marinate scallops wrapped in bacon in a mix of rosemary, basil, lemon juice and zest, salt, pepper, garlic and olive oil. Then fry on all sides, including the marinade which reduces to a sticky sweetness as it bubbles up.
If you serve a selection of different things on horseback, label them, as they all tend to look the same, and some people don’t like the fishy taste of smoked oysters!
Best foods to wrap bacon around:
- smoked oysters
- prunes – soaked in Armagnac or cognac
- dried apricots and sage
- dates stuffed in their turn with mango chutney
- chicken livers
- mashed up sardines
- marinated scallops
- chef Faustian Bargain’s idea – duck fat fried croûtons and minced shallots – see below.
Recipe for all sorts of things on horseback
for 8 whatever stuffing is selected:
- 8 rashers of streaky bacon
- cocktail sticks – or you can use stems of rosemary, denuded of their needle-leaves
- if you have any rosemary (use the discarded needles), thyme or bay to hand, strew these on the bottom of the roasting tin.
for tanned angels on horseback:
- freshly ground white pepper
- 1 tin smoked oysters
- fresh chopped parsley
- a little lemon juice
for devils on horseback:
- Spanish sweet smoked paprika
- 16 pitted dried prunes (or if you don’t like or can’t get, dates – or if you want chickens on horseback, 250g/8 oz lightly fried chicken livers)
- 4 tbsp cognac or Armagnac (this is optional – still excellent without)
- 4 tbsp mango chutney (Sharwood’s or Garner’s is good)
- Soak the prunes in the cognac or Armagnac.
- Preheat the oven to 210 °C
- Flatten/stretch out the rashers on a chopping board, then cut in half
- If you are making devils, slit open the prunes and stuff with a teaspoon of mango chutney
- Wrap oysters or prunes or chicken liver with the bacon
- Pack tightly together on an oiled roasting tray so they don’t unravel
- Bake (together with any fresh rosemary, thyme or/and bay you have to hand) for about eight minutes
- Sprinkle angels with parsley and lemon juice, and devils with paprika
- Serve with cocktail sticks, or ready-speared on denuded stems of rosemary.
I have also found a comment on the web by someone with the wonderful moniker of Faustian Bargain. He comments that chefs aren’t allowed to eat real food. Instead they are supposed to snack, but they are “allowed to swallow gallons of really bad coffee”. He then describes one of the accepted ‘crunchy perks’ as follows:
“Take a piece of bread and cut it into nice thick batons. Fry it in duck fat. Make a bed of sautéed minced shallots on a strip of bacon and place the crispy crouton in the middle, wrap the bacon strip around it and let the bacon sizzle on a hot pan until done.”
Angel and devil music
And here’s a selection of riding (Wagner); devil (Diana Krall, Devil May Care and The Rolling Stones, Symphony for the Devil, Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà, Les Beautés Du Diable); angel (Marlene Dietrich from the film The Blue Angel); smokey (Bryan Ferry, Smoke Gets in your Eyes); and chicken music (Chicken skin band with Ry Cooder, He’ll Have to Go). By the time you’ve listened to that your bacon-wrapped canapés will be ready.
This post is dedicated to Faustian Bargain, whoever he or she is, with thanks.