Recently I had to take a plate of appetisers as a contribution to a pot-luck lunch party. The guests were a mixed bunch of Brits, Germans, Chinese and Filipinos, I wanted to make something out of the ordinary which would link Asian and Western foods.
During the Victorian and Edwardian eras in Britain (think Downton Abbey!), posh dinners always ended with a ‘savoury’, which would be served after the dessert and before the ladies left the men to their port and cigars.
Apparently the idea was to cleanse the palate of ‘sweet’ tastes from the dessert course before further red wines and port were served.
Some of these savouries have become classics and have even crossed to the USA; however these days they are often eaten not as end of meal tidbits, but as appetisers.
Amongst the most famous of these savouries are Scotch Woodcock ( a posh name for scrambled egg with anchovies on a snippet of fried bread), Welsh Rarebit, and Angels/Devils-on-Horseback.
When I was doing my regular shop in San Yuan Li market, I discovered that sealed bags of freshly peeled water chestnuts were available from the ladies who sell me mushrooms.
That decided me, I would make a Chinese version of the ubiquitous Angels-on-Horseback (grilled bacon-wrapped oysters) or Devils-on-Horseback (grilled bacon-wrapped prunes). I used fresh peeled water-chestnuts wrapped in bacon and pinned with a bamboo toothpick, and brushed them with a sweet and spicy sauce, then grilled them. This is not new, it has been done before, but all the recipes I’ve seen used canned water-chestnuts and didn’t jazz them up with a Chinese sauce, which is what I planned to do.
Water-chestnuts are not a nut at all, they are the edible corm of a grass-like sedge (Elecharis dulcis) which grows in the underwater mud of marshes. Once peeled they yield a crisp white ‘nut’ which the Chinese use in many foods to give a crunchy texture. They can be eaten raw, boiled, sweetened or even dried then ground into a type of flour. I love eating them in salads, casseroles, stir-fries, spring rolls etc.
Although they are deliciously crunchy, peeling them is a bit of a chore to say the least; in that way they do resemble the traditional chestnut, which is an absolute bugger to peel.So you can imagine how pleased I was to discover bags of freshly peeled ones in the market!
I don’t think fresh Water-chestnuts peeled or unpeeled are available in the UK or outside the far east, but you can buy tinned peeled ones* in the World/Asian foods section of most western supermarkets, and they would do almost as well.
I decided these appetisers needed a proper name so I have re-branded them as
They were ridiculously easy to put together, and you can prep them in advance and just grill them at the last minute if you want to serve them hot – but they are just as delicious if cooked earlier and served at room temperature.
12 rashers streaky bacon (I used smoked, but un-smoked would be fine)
12 peeled water-chestnuts (if using tinned you may need more as they are smaller)
24 bamboo toothpicks
For the basting sauce
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar or runny honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon chilli & garlic sauce (I use Lee Kum Kee brand which is excellent)
Pre-heat oven to 180C
Line a baking tray with tinfoil and oil it lightly.
Cut bacon rashers in half so you have 24 pieces.
Cut water-chestnuts in half.
Roll bacon pieces round each piece of water-chestnut and pin with a toothpick.
Mix the ketchup, sugar/honey, soy sauce and ‘Chili & Garlic Sauce’ together.
Put the dragon rolls into the baking tray and brush them with the sauce.
Bake in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes. You can turn them half way through and re-baste them with sauce.
They look good laid out on a large dish lined with fresh lettuce leaves.
*If you are buying tinned/canned water chestnuts for this recipe, be sure you buy a can that says ‘whole’ water-chestnuts’, sliced or diced will not do.