Angels on Horseback

Have you ever heard of angels on horseback? Hank Shaw shares his recipe for this classic appetizer. ~Elise

I first encountered this dish when I moved to Long Island in the late 1980s. It was at a wedding I attended with my girlfriend DeDee, and it was one of those classic Long Island weddings, with all the glass clinking to make the couple kiss at awkward moments, a thicket of big hair, and so much Billy Joel music I had to listen to the Dead Kennedys for a week afterward to recover. I had a blast, but what I remembered most was this odd appetizer of an oyster, wrapped in bacon and squirted with lemon juice. I asked the waiter what it was called and he said, “It’s an angel on horseback,” as if I was a moron for not knowing.

I later learned that angels on horseback – also done with scallops and sometimes called “devils on horseback” – was a de rigeur Long Island party food at the time. I can tell you that even now it remains an awesomely tasty dish: Briny, minerally oysters just barely cooked, surrounded by smoky bacon and lightened with the zing of fresh lemon juice; I later switched to lime juice, because I like it even better.

Make a lot of these, especially if you can find small oysters, like the Olympias of Washington state. Basically you want oysters of a size that you’d eat raw – this is supposed to be a one-bite dish, after all. I’ve used pre-shucked oysters for this many times, too, so just look for the small ones.

I’ve never seen a crowd eat fewer than 3 per person of these, and 4 per person is pretty safe. Personally, I’ve put away a baker’s dozen before, which, I think, either makes me a bona fide angel… or just a glutton.

Angels on Horseback Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4.

Canned shucked oysters can be found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store and work well in this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 16-32 small oysters (or scallops), or larger ones cut in half, shucked
  • 8-16 slices of thin-cut bacon
  • 16-32 wooden toothpicks
  • 3-4 limes or lemons

Method

1 Working in batches if necessary, cook the bacon slices on medium low heat in a large frying pan, until only about halfway cooked, but not crispy. You need to pre-cook the bacon a bit or else when you cook them with the oysters the oysters will be overcooked by the time the bacon is crispy. Set the bacon aside to cool.

2 Get a grill or broiler good and hot while you wrap the oysters.

3 To make an angel on horseback, you wrap 1/2 a piece of bacon around the small oyster and secure it with the toothpick. Overlap the edges of the bacon by about an inch if you can.

4 Grill or broil over high heat to cook the oyster and crisp the bacon, about 5-6 minutes on the first side, another 2-4 once you turn them over. You will need to turn them once or twice to get a good crispiness on all sides.

5 As soon as they come off the heat, squirt with the lemon or lime juice and serve hot.

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Links:

Wikipedia entry on Angels on Horseback
Devils on horseback - bacon-wrapped, stuffed prunes from The Greasy Spoon

angels-on-horseback-b.jpg

37 Comments

  1. Teacher Amber

    I did some student teaching in South Africa, and while I was there, my host family threw a big party for their graduating son. They served “devils on horseback,” which was bacon-wrapped dates. Delicious!

  2. jeanette

    I love bacon wrapped scallops! Anything wrapped in bacon is gooooood! For get togethers, I have done bacon wrapped shrimps on skewers.

  3. beckback

    The popular thing in my family is bacon wrapped water chestnuts, it’s a must at all family gatherings! There is something about that yummy smoky salty bacon and the crunchy water chestnuts that just goes soooo perfect together!
    My husbands late grandmother started the tradition and I have picked it up and carried it on.

  4. KissTheChef

    Love these. If you use the “ready to eat” bacon that is cooked, but just needs a minute in the microwave to get crispy, the oyster stays in better shape and doesn’t get chewy. It’s also easier to find than the thinly sliced bacon.

    I use the “pre-cooked” bacon to wrap shrimp, oysters, scallops, dates, holumi cheese and mozzerella bites. (not all at once – ha!) I’ve always had better success with not overcooking the wrapped item using this method. You still put the items in the oven, though. Don’t use the microwave to fully cook the wrapped food.

    Thanks..

  5. KJR

    As a Long Island native now living elsewhere, your description of it in all of its late-’80s glory (including the obnoxious reception hall waiter) cracks me up! But strangely, even after a lifetime of going to Long Island weddings, I never knew that this appetizer was called “angels on horseback.” Love the idea of lime juice – I’ll be sure to try it the next time I make these.

  6. Jan

    My nephew made bacon wrapped scallops at our last family get together. Someone asked him what they were called and he thought for a minute and said bacon wrapped scallops! Now I can tell him what they are really called. So yummy and easy to make.

  7. Carolie

    I had an hors d’oeuvre that the hostess called Angels on Horseback, but it was chicken livers and slices of water chestnut wrapped in bacon and glazed with a sweet soy sauce and broiled. I’m glad to find out what Angels on Horseback really is…but the chicken liver version is pretty delicious as well!

  8. Carolie

    Ha ha…I got curious and looked it up, and the chicken-liver/water-chestnut/bacon skewers that my hostess called Angels on Horseback is actually called Rumaki. Glad I have it straight now, thanks to Hank!

  9. Ashley

    How well would this work with clams?

    Never tried it. Might be too chewy. This dish is commonly done with scallops, though. ~Hank

  10. chelsea vetter

    there is a place right by my house that serves devils on horseback and its my boyfriends late night craving food. Bacon, wrapped around blue cheese stuffed dates. AMAZING!

  11. Jeanine

    Hi, that is interesting name, I use scallops instead of oysters. I thought it was just called scallops wrapped in bacon. Silly me (I have a great recipe about marinating the scallops in bourbon and brown sugar, yum.

    Great pics.

  12. jade

    I remember these from the 80s, too.

    In Australia, a Devil on Horseback is a prune wrapped in bacon. So gross, but quite delicious, I made them for my Scotsman recently, they’re sweet and salty and savory and really weird.

  13. CopyKat Recipes

    Thanks to the cooking network, these were featured recently on the old show the two fat ladies. It is wonderful to see good retro food brought back. You have to love food hat is so fulfilling.

  14. Micron the Cat

    The first time I ran into this recipe, they were called devils on horseback, and instead of seafood, they used chicken liver. I DESPISE liver, but I had already eaten two of these things – and they were DELISH!!! – before I found out it was liver. I wish they’d not told me…

  15. Mandy Frielinghaus

    Brilliant combination!
    We often do a cheaper version of wrapping streaky bacon around glacé cherries on skewers and grilled on the braai (barbecue)!
    Always a hit!
    :-) Mandy

  16. jonathan

    Hank – Word on the street has it that Angels on Horseback happens to be Jello Biafra’s ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jello_Biafra ) favorite party food. ;)

    No WAY! I am, and always have been, a huge Dead Kennedys fan… ~Hank

  17. bureaucrat

    I’ve never had a devil or angel on horseback, but from the tv cooking shows, the devil ones would have some tabasco sauce to make them devishly hot.

  18. Matt

    Sounds tasty but never heard of it…and I’m from long island…and love Billy Joel. Sounds tastier with a scallop though. Kinda stinks as I’m in Florida now and it’s the perfect time of year for Scalloping sans the millions of gallons of oil contaminating the scallop beds for years to come :( Need to look into going on the east coast so I can make some of these.

  19. Matt

    To me, cooking oysters is close to blasphemy (though a friend made butter poached oysters that were truly heavenly). I love this with scallops. When I was a kid it was the only way I would eat them until my palate evolved a bit.

  20. Monica

    The first time I ate “something” wrapped in bacon, it was oyster stuffed into a shrimp wrapped in bacon and deep fried. I think they called them “embrochette” (sp?). Whatever they’re called, they’re fabulous. I can’t wait to try the dates stuffed with blue cheese version!

  21. Lee

    I make both of the angelic and devilish version of these frequently Depending on the guests, I will use oysters, scallops, prunes or chicken livers. Try stuffing the prunes with a good Manchego or Gruyere or blue cheese. Substitute shrimp for the oysters or scallops. My absolute favorite way of preparing these is to baste on some good quality BBQ sauce at the end of grilling the angelic variety. I call them Texas Angels (the horseback part being kind of redundant in Texas!).

  22. Chad Dore

    These are quite common in Louisiana, simply called Oysters en Brochette. There’s also a shrimp version that’s a little more popular. Sometimes a skewer is used to do many at once, and sometimes the whole thing is battered and deep fried, but often they are just baked in a really hot oven. I like the grilling method you have here though, since seafood cooks so much faster than pork.

  23. Regina

    You had me at “bacon”…. But one appetizer we regularly make when we go to the beach is proscuitto wrapped shrimp: wrap large shrimp (two bite size) with a piece of proscuitto, and secure with a toothpick. Grill, the whole time basting with a mixture of melted butter, Tony Chachere’s, and fresh rosemary that’s been muddled…… (pardon me while I wipe the drool from the keyboard)….. mmmmmmmmmm I think I may have to make a trip to the beach, SOON!!!

  24. Stephanie Johnston

    Angels on horseback for us was a campfire food. You took a hotdog, slit it, put some cheese it in, wrapped it in bacon, put on a stick and cooked over the fire until the bacon was crispy and the cheese gooey!

    Not too many oysters in Michigan growing up, but plenty of campfires :)

    Rumaki was also common — just as previous posters commented — water chestnuts wrapped in bacon and broiled. YUM!

  25. azze

    This reminded me of my catering days when we served “Mock Rumaki” and to this day I have never had it again. It was a piece water melond rind and a cashew wrapped in smoky bacon.Yummy.

  26. Kolohe

    Rumaki was especially popular during the huge affinity of everything Polynesian starting in the 1950s. My mom & dad courted over a shaker of martinis and a hibatchi full of rumaki in the early 60s. Rumaki is a sophisticated, nostalgic hors d’oeuvre. As a kid, I hated both liver and water chestnuts, but somehow still loved my mom’s rumaki when she broke it out. Give it (as well as the Angel on Horseback, of course) a try; They take some effort (both liver & oysters are slippery to work with) but the result is a dignified, powerful, satisfying little bite.

  27. Elizabeth Robertson

    Hi, In Australia we call oysters and bacon angles on horseback and prunes (dried plumbs) are called devils on horse back…..I remember doing 100′s of them for parties useing smoked oysters…yum yum….

  28. Erin

    I LOVE these!!! My husband will make them occasionally, but I never knew what they were called. But I must admit that I prefer scallops to oysters.

    One of the other commenters mentioned using chicken liver instead of seafood, and that sounds divine – I must try it sometime!

  29. Valerie

    Thank you for this recipe, sounds soooo delicious (and surprisingly simple)!
    Every time my friends and I go to The Spotted Pig in NYC, we order an appetizer called “Devils on Horseback”, which is a prune wrapped in bacon and cooked in an amazing sweet & savory sauce.

  30. Felinity

    @Carole – “Rumaki” is actually a Polish word for “fine horses” :)

    This looks delicious!

  31. Nancy

    I haven’t heard of these since the 1960′s. They were so good! We used chicken livers in Detroit restaurants. So good…I am going to make some this weekend..Thanks for sharing!

  32. Carolie

    How cool, Felinity! Aren’t words wonderful? Thank you!

  33. Jean

    In Wisconsin, it’s also called rumaki, but we wrap bacon around pineapple chunks or water chestnuts. The tanginess of the pineapple goes so well with the smoky/salty taste of the bacon. The oysters or scallops sound delicious, too!

  34. Ben

    I’m deviating a little but in Tucson we make jalapeno poppers by wrapping bacon around half a chili stuffed with cream cheese, brown sugar and cilantro. Very nice anytime.

  35. karen

    these are the best!!! I actually don’t use lime or lemon juice but serve them with horseradish sauce. yum yum yum

  36. RD

    As other posters have mentioned, this reminded me also of Rumaki – a chicken liver and slice of water chestnut wrapped in bacon, brushed with teriyaki sauce and broiled. Very popular back in the early 60′s when Polynesian restaurants were in vogue (ours was “The Luau” in the Houston suburbs). My Mom made it at home from time to time. This is an interesting variation I would like try.

  37. athena

    This is such a cool idea. It looks like old-school rumaki, but totally different! How can you go wrong with bacon and oysters?

    You can’t. ;-) ~Hank

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