Editors' Picks

The Elegant Hors d'Oeuvre's Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts

January 23, 2013

Every week -- often with your help -- FOOD52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: Kristen gets ready for game day -- and stretches the definition of genius in the name of deliciousness.

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Back in the good old days -- when hair was feathered and foods were fused -- we wrapped a lot of bacon around a lot of things.

The classic Rumaki involved duck or chicken liver. Devils on Horseback: boozy prunes. There were scallops in snug bacon belts. Items were soaked in soy, or simmered in sweet chili sauce, before being engirded by pork. And then there's Food52's own Texan twist with roasted Hatch chiles, Devils on Hatchback.

If you have been to a cocktail party in the past 40 years, you've popped a few of these in your mouth.

But I have to say I'm partial to this recipe. It comes from a funny little book called The Elegant Hors d'Oeuvre by Margon Edney and Ede Grimm.

Ready for it? It's bacon strips, halved, painted with Dijon, sprinkled with brown sugar, stuffed with water chestnuts, skewered, and roasted crisp. Optionally dragged through chutney.



I have been making them for parties ever since my parents learned my little fingers could roll them, and I recommend putting children and other kitchen assistants of limited abilities to work in this capacity.

Why are they genius? Well, they're delicious. There is always a fight over them, and never one left behind. It's four ingredients (not counting the chutney) and -- like some of the most genius recipes we've seen -- you don't really need a recipe to remember them. There aren't even amounts listed.


They're a peculiar blend of high and low cuisine (Do you have any Grey Poupon? I need to put it on my bacon) and one of the more sensible examples of early fusion food. They manage to rope in French Dijon, Chinese water chestnuts, and Indian chutney, and seem to have been part of a trend called Mock Polynesian.

In other words, they're American, to the hilt. Are you ready for some football yet?

There are few party snacks that feel more dated, but you won't see me trying to revive Jell-O salad or the sandwich loaf. This one holds up, like a fine pig in a blanket. And, really, old is the new new: these babies foretold both our recent tastes for salty with sweet and the bacon explosion (and The Bacon Explosion). 

The generic-sounding chutney pairing is the part that made my bosses cringe -- maybe you will too. But you can go without, or make your own chutney, or use your favorite artisanal brand. Or just remember that you're dipping a ball of bacon in it, get some Major Grey's, and not worry too much about it.

But I'm not giving you the alternate microwave instructions. I've got standards. 

The Elegant Hors d'Oeuvre's Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts

Recipe adapted very slightly from The Elegant Hors d'Oeuvre by Margon Edney and Ede Grimm (Tofua Press, 1977)

Serves a crowd

Bacon, 1/2 slice for each water chestnut
Dijon mustard
Brown sugar
Water chestnuts
Chutney (optional)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.


Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by James Ransom


More retro game day snacks:

 fondue  frito pie  onion dip

Cheese Fondue

Frito Pie

Caramelized Onion Dip

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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Julie K. January 10, 2016
At our house, way back in the 60s, we made these with water chestnuts or chicken livers. But the real standouts were watermelon pickles wrapped in bacon: sweet and sour and just about perfect!
Ruby March 15, 2014
Just found this. I'm going to try it with my maple syrup, stone ground mustard and siracha sauce!
harleywoof July 23, 2013
My family has been making these fabulous appetizers since the 1960's. First saw them in Joyce Chen's Cook Book copyrighted 1962. They have become a tradition every New Years Eve. Pure goodness!!!
Cookie Q. May 30, 2013
Where's the chicken liver??
Summer O. February 1, 2013
Wow, I grew up eating these. Brings back memories of a gold Christmas tree and my favorite velvet, dropped waist party dress.
kat7735 January 29, 2013
[email protected] January 28, 2013
Like you I have been making these on a reqular basis for gatherings, that are requested, almost expected. I have on occassion "cheated" & just rolled the chestnuts in bacon & used as raspberry chipoltle BBQ sause. Outstanding. also, try them with shrimp vs chestnuts. to kick it up a notch, add a slice of jalapeno where the vein was on the shrimp.... Uh HuH!!
BoulderGalinTokyo January 28, 2013
Great hot, or even cold. Travels well, to a picnic or whatever. We make the old fashion-kind, does the Mustard/sugar make them drippy?
Kristen M. January 28, 2013
Not really, if you only apply as much is shown in the photos above -- a little bit of the mustard and sugar might seep out onto the pan, but most stays inside!
BoulderGalinTokyo January 29, 2013
I'll try that next. Thanks!
crumbsoflove January 27, 2013
I made these for New Years Eve and every single one was eaten! I marinated the water chestnuts in soy sauce first then dredged them in brown sugar before rolling up in bacon. Soooo good
Anitalectric January 27, 2013
Ooooh! I want to try this with my eggplant bacon. YUM! I was so so jealous when everyone else got to indulge in your rumaki at Thanksgiving I will have to make this version with you to get it just right ;)
MJprovence January 27, 2013
This was a favorite recipe of my Mother's in the 60's. Nothing new under the sun...
frcontrone January 27, 2013
The ones I've made for the past 35+ years were pitted dates wrapped around a water chestnut then wrapped with bacon. My son who hates the hint of a nut in food will eat them.
Barretta January 27, 2013
I cannot say how many times I ate these as a child at my parents' parties. So excited to make these!
Emilie January 27, 2013
My mom makes these but with Lil Smokies in addition to the water chestnuts. So like a trashy version of rumaki I guess. They're strangely addictive and the tray is always emptied quickly by party guests.
LizyG January 25, 2013
where can I find these water chestnuts? Are they canned?
Kristen M. January 25, 2013
Yes, they're canned, and you can often find them with other Asian ingredients at the grocery store. I've never seen them fresh myself, but if you ever do, here's what you'd do with them! http://startcooking.com/how-to-slice-and-peel-water-chestnuts
mamasroy January 23, 2013
I make these for every party, but instead of coating the bacon with mustard/sugar, I leave it alone, and serve the bacon wrapped water chestnuts with soy sauce on the side for dipping. It's insanely good! I will try this version too though, thanks!
Kristen M. January 24, 2013
I've never tried soy sauce, but I should! It seems like a popular ingredient in these things.
AntoniaJames January 23, 2013
We made these in the sixties for dinner parties, after discovering them in what I suspect was the first Craig Claiborne NYT cookbook. (As my mother's sous chef, I wrapped a gazillion of these.) We may have skipped the brown sugar because our bacon was rather sweet. The crunchy wetness of the water chestnuts really does set these apart from the gooey-chewy dates, figs, etc. that eventually became more popular. (I always put a crispy, toasted walnut half in the latter, with a few anise seeds, to get that definitive crunch when you bite down.) ;o)
Kristen M. January 24, 2013
The crunch is essential -- love that modification. Did you ever serve yours with chutney?
AntoniaJames January 24, 2013
No, but that may have been for practical reasons. Hors d'oeuvres were typically served by the "Littles" (younger sisters), who may have had difficulty handling a tray of these + dipping sauce. Also, everyone thought these were really good as is. ;o) P.S. I now own the (patently retro) trays on which we served these and the omnipresent crudités (of which I also made at least a gazillion).
thirschfeld January 23, 2013
I love water chestnuts wrapped in bacon. You know you altered my culinary cuisine map with the term Mock Polynesian. I had never heard that before but now I have a name for all those dishes I associate(in my mind) with key parties of the 60's. I am guessing Hawaii could have been ground zero for these.
Kristen M. January 24, 2013
Trader Vic's too -- key agent in Mock Polynesian proliferation.
Kenzi W. January 23, 2013
Does making these for myself tonight count as a cocktail party?
Lyrajayne January 23, 2013
So long as you're making cocktails to go with them, yes!
Brette W. January 23, 2013
Can I come?
Kristen M. January 24, 2013
I highly approve of this thread.