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Roasted Asparagus with Pickle-Poached Eggs and Country Ham
Roasted Asparagus with Pickle-Poached Eggs and Country Ham

We never had much use for leftover pickle juice until Sam Crannell tipped us off to an old chef's trick. Now we never toss the brine down the drain; we save it for poaching perfect eggs instead: The vinegary liquid helps the eggs set while lending them a hint of sweetness and garlicky flavor. At his Seattle restaurant, LloydMartin, Crannell pairs his pickle-juice-poached eggs with roasted asparagus, golden garlic croutons, country ham and a bracing honey-mustard vinaigrette. The dish sings of spring, whether you serve it as a classy appetizer at dinner or as an elegant light lunch.

Makes 4 appetizer servings

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

1/2 large French baguette, crust removed and torn into bite-size pieces

1 1/2 pounds asparagus, trimmed

1/2 cup pickle juice

4 eggs, at room temperature

1/4 pound thinly sliced smoked country ham (preferably Smithfield)

1. Preheat the oven to 500˚. In a blender, combine the mustard, honey and vinegar and pulse at medium speed until well mixed. With the motor running, slowly add 1/4 cup of the olive oil until emulsified. Season with salt and set aside. 

2. In a medium skillet, warm 1/4 cup of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 1 minute. Discard the garlic. Add the bread to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Transfer the croutons to a paper-towel-lined plate.

3. Toss the asparagus with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Roast for about 8 minutes, or until tender.

4. Meanwhile, fill a pot two-thirds full with water and add the pickle juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Crack the eggs one at a time into a small bowl, then slide them into the simmering water. Poach the eggs until their whites are set but the yolks are still runny, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggs to a paper-towel-lined plate.

5. Divide the asparagus among 4 plates and top each serving with a few slices of the ham, a scattering of croutons and a poached egg. Drizzle the vinaigrette over each serving and serve immediately.

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