Asparagus, Bacon & Egg Salad
FOR THE VINAIGRETTE
- 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional)
- 1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon hazelnut or walnut oil
- Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
FOR THE SALAD
- 4 large eggs, cold, extremely fresh
- 20 asparagus spears, preferably thick, trimmed and peeled
- 6 slices Applewood Smoked Bacon
- 3 handfuls mesclun or other mixed salad greens, rinsed and dried
- 1/3 cup hazelnuts or walnuts, chopped
- To make the vinaigrette: Put all the ingredients in a small jar, cover, and shake to blend; or use a small bowl and a whisk. If you’ve used the mustard, the dressing will be fairly well blended; if not, it will blend, then separate — either way, it’s fine. Set aside, and shake (or whisk) again before using. (You can make the vinaigrette up to a week in advance and keep it in the fridge.)
- To make the salad: Bring a medium saucepan of heavily salted water to a boil. One by one, put the cold eggs on a spoon and slowly and gently lower them into the water (saying a little don’t-let-my-egg-break prayer on the way down). Allow the eggs to boil for exactly 6 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat, lift the eggs into a strainer, and run them under cold water to cool them quickly. Fill the pan with cold water and leave the eggs in the water until needed.
- Bring a large skillet of salted water to a boil. Slip the asparagus into the pan and cook for 4 minutes, or until you can pierce the spears with the tip of a paring knife. The asparagus should be cooked through but not at all mushy. Carefully transfer the spears to a plate lined with a double thickness of paper towels and pat them dry.
- Pour out the salted water, rinse the skillet to cool it, dry it, and lay the strips of bacon in the pan. Cook over medium-low heat, turning as needed, until the bacon is golden and crisp on both sides. Remove the strips and put them between a double thickness of paper towels; when the bacon is cool, cut it into narrow strips or chop it into bits. Leave 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat in the skillet — you’ll use it for the eggs.
- When you’re ready to serve, very, very carefully shell the eggs. It’s a fussy job, because the eggs are so soft, and you might not get the shells off cleanly, but unless you break into the yolks, it will be fine. Rinse the eggs to remove any bits of shell and pat them dry. Warm the bacon fat over medium heat.
- While the bacon fat is heating, assemble the salad. You can put it together on a platter or arrange it on individual plates. Either way, season the mesclun with salt and pepper, then toss it with about three quarters of the vinaigrette, and arrange in the center of the platter or your plates. Toss the asparagus with the remaining vinaigrette (I do this with my fingers) and lay the spears over the greens.
- Now return to the skillet. When the fat is warm, gingerly slip the eggs into the skillet and roll them around in the fat for a minute or two, just to coat them with fat, heat them slightly, and color them a little.
- Lift the eggs out of the skillet and place them on top of the asparagus. Scatter the bacon bits and toasted nuts over the salad and serve immediately.
CHEF'S TIPS: A great starter for a spring or summer dinner, the salad can also be the main event at a warm-weather lunch. If you serve it for lunch, think about serving a hunk of cheese (or a small platter of cheeses) as well. Nutty cheeses like Comté, Gruyère, or Parmesan go particularly well with asparagus.
You can make the vinaigrette days ahead, and it’s okay to cook the asparagus, bacon, and eggs a couple of hours ahead, but the eggs’ final swirlaround in the bacon fat and the salad’s assembly need to be last-minute.
Bonne idée: Nut-Coated Eggs. To add just a touch more sophistication to this dish, warm the eggs in the fat in the skillet, and when they’re nicely coated with fat, sprinkle about 2 tablespoons finely chopped nuts over them. Keep turning the eggs until the nuts are browned and the eggs are coated. Or, for a change, replace the bacon fat with butter. Cook the butter over gentle heat until it browns lightly, then coat the eggs and add the nuts.