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What are Angels on Horseback?

Angels on Horseback are a sumptuous appetizer, where juicy oysters are wrapped in smoky bacon and grilled to perfection. This heavenly pairing creates a delightful contrast of flavors and textures, tantalizing the taste buds. As you savor the crispy, salty exterior giving way to the succulent, briny oyster within, you'll understand why this dish is celestial in name and taste. Curious about its origins? Let's dive deeper.
Liz Scott
Liz Scott

"Angels on horseback" is the fanciful name given to a type of hot hors d’oeuvre in which oysters are wrapped in bacon strips, skewered and broiled. They originated in Victorian England as a popular after-dinner snack but have since become a common appetizer served at upscale parties, weddings and other types of gatherings. They occasionally are served on toast points, which are crustless triangles of buttered and toasted bread, but they most often are presented simply on their own to be eaten directly from the skewer.

The name itself, “angels on horseback,” is believed to be derived from its classic appearance when the bacon edges curl up after broiling, remotely resembling the upturned wings of angels. They are sometimes referred to as oysters en brochette or just bacon-wrapped oysters. On occasion, angels on horseback will be battered and deep fried, but for the most part, they are either broiled or grilled.

Mango chutney, which is sometimes served with angels on horseback.
Mango chutney, which is sometimes served with angels on horseback.

Shucked oysters usually are first marinated in a combination of white wine and garlic for several hours. They are then patted dry, seasoned with salt and pepper, then carefully wrapped in a flattened piece of bacon or sometimes only half a bacon strip, depending on the size of the oyster. Secured with a toothpick, they can be prepared ahead of time and kept covered and refrigerated until ready to broil. They can also be frozen. Only a few minutes per side under the broiler are required to crisp the bacon before serving.

Prunes, which are sometimes included in devils on horseback, a variation of angels on horseback.
Prunes, which are sometimes included in devils on horseback, a variation of angels on horseback.

There are a number of variations on the traditional angels on horseback, such as replacing the oyster with scallops, shrimp or chicken livers. A particularly popular version called devils on horseback replaces the oysters with stuffed prunes or dates. Almonds, bleu cheese and mango chutney are often used as the stuffing, although anything that complements the bacon flavor and can stand up to the grilling or broiling temperature could be used.

Angels on horseback are cooked on a broiling pan.
Angels on horseback are cooked on a broiling pan.

It also is possible to replace the bacon with pancetta, an Italian cured meat similar to bacon but not smoked, or even turkey bacon for a reduced fat and lower-calorie version. Some recipes for angels on horseback will suggest partially cooking the bacon or pancetta before wrapping, which reduces the required broiling time, ensuring that the oysters or other selected centers are not overcooked. This also will help to lower the fat content.

Some people recommend cooking the bacon before wrapping the oysters to shorten the cooking time.
Some people recommend cooking the bacon before wrapping the oysters to shorten the cooking time.

Toothpicks are the usual implement for skewering, although metal or bamboo skewers also can be used. For grilling, bamboo skewers in particular should be soaked in water for at least 30 minutes to prevent burning. In addition, longer skewers can turn an individual appetizer into a three- or four-piece first course dish or light supper when served with toast points and a small salad. This is a quite popular way to serve angels on horseback in England as well as many other northern European countries.

Shucked oysters are wrapped in bacon to make angels on horseback.
Shucked oysters are wrapped in bacon to make angels on horseback.

A number of frozen food manufacturers make angels on horseback for easy preparation and serving, but they can be made at home just as easily. Shucking the oysters might prove to be the most difficult task, so when they are bought from a fishmonger, it is a good idea to have them shucked at the store. They should be used within 24 hours, because their freshness will deteriorate rapidly.

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Discussion Comments

Grivusangel

@Grivusangel -- Yeah, is there anything that's not improved with the addition of bacon? I'm kind of a shrimp and scallop fan myself, and I've made these before.

I'd never heard of wrapping bacon around prunes or dates, though. Ham around melon slices yes, but not bacon with plums. I figure it's probably pretty tasty, though.

What I always heard called devils on horseback were the bacon-wrapped oysters, but either tossed in hot sauce or served with a pungent horseradish sauce -- hence, the "devil."

Grivusangel

I like the shrimp version of angels on horseback, since I'm not really an oyster fan. However, bacon can make nearly everything a lot better. But bacon-wrapped shrimp is wonderful, either for an appetizer, or a main dish. It's also really good with grilled or broiled scallops, either sea scallops or the little bay scallops.

I've also heard of the devils on horseback appetizer recipe, and I've seen prunes, dates, dried apricots and even dried apples used in that recipe. Some recipes have cream-cheese stuffed prunes or dates, and then wrap that in bacon. There are certainly worse things than bacon and cream cheese in one appetizer!

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    • Mango chutney, which is sometimes served with angels on horseback.
      Mango chutney, which is sometimes served with angels on horseback.
    • Prunes, which are sometimes included in devils on horseback, a variation of angels on horseback.
      Prunes, which are sometimes included in devils on horseback, a variation of angels on horseback.
    • Angels on horseback are cooked on a broiling pan.
      By: rimglow
      Angels on horseback are cooked on a broiling pan.
    • Some people recommend cooking the bacon before wrapping the oysters to shorten the cooking time.
      By: sparkia
      Some people recommend cooking the bacon before wrapping the oysters to shorten the cooking time.
    • Shucked oysters are wrapped in bacon to make angels on horseback.
      By: smuki
      Shucked oysters are wrapped in bacon to make angels on horseback.
    • A bacon press can be used to flatten the bacon strips while cooking, before wrapping them around the oysters.
      By: Dani Simmonds
      A bacon press can be used to flatten the bacon strips while cooking, before wrapping them around the oysters.