After we feasted on this salad the other night, I got the third degree from Ty: where did the recipe come from? I’m not quite sure really. I kind of applied the transitive property to a couple of things in the refrigerator, and landed on this particular combination. So much of cooking is this way for home cooks, I think. We know that A traditionally goes well with B, and that C traditionally goes well with B, and therefore A and C also make a great pairing. Sometimes you get several degrees away in these relationships and still end up with something stunning. So with this salad.
I think the original inspiration here is our annual trip to the Adirondacks, where we stay in Keene, N.Y., at the delightful Dartbrook Lodge. (Note to self: plan this year’s trip.) While there, one of the delights of local cuisine that we enjoy is smoked trout. It is served there on Club crackers (why are they so good?) and on spinach salad, and with eggs, and in all cases with some combination of horseradish cream, capers, or red onions. Every restaurant in the area seems to feature smoked trout in one dish or another, and like many foods that we associate with a particular place, we love the food more because of the location where we’ve enjoyed it. And vice versa.
Asparagus pairs as naturally with eggs as does smoked trout, which you frequently find with scrambled eggs at breakfast. Potatoes are a lovely companion to asparagus, and also eggs. Red onions and capers are both the frequent companions to these items. And asparagus, smoked trout, eggs, and potatoes all love horseradish. I should pause here to say that my lovely colleague Lani, who makes her own horseradish each year with her husband, gave me a jar of the potent stuff. Without it, this dish would not have been possible! I know the pain and suffering involved with grinding one’s own horseradish, and I therefore treasure it all the more.
Each component of this salad is blanched or browned separately to prepare the final dish: bacon crisped, eggs hard-boiled, asparagus blanched, potatoes boiled. All of these things can be done in advance—a few days in advance, even. (Except the asparagus, which is always more crisp-tender if blanched and iced just before eating.) The dressing, a simple mixture of Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, horseradish, and lemon juice, can also be prepared the day before. Or, you can do as I did, and come home from work and set a pot of water to boil and fry your bacon. (Truthfully I should also note that the bacon is absolutely unnecessary to the success of this dish. It is marvelous without it.) Everything gets cooled with chilled water before composing the salad (now is when you can fry up your croutons) and you are ready to eat.
While putting this together has its logistical challenges, none of its components are difficult, and all in all it is a route to an easy weeknight supper. Happy spring!
Smoked trout + asparagus salad
- 4 eggs, hard boiled
- 1/4 cup greek yogurt
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon horseradish
- juice of 1 lemon
- 3 medium waxy potatoes, such as red bliss or Yukon gold, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch to 1-inch cubes
- 1 bunch asparagus (about 20 spears), washed and trimmed of tough stems
- 3 slices bacon (optional)
- 8 ounces of smoked trout, skin removed
- 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
- 1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
- 8 slices of ciabatta or baguette
- olive oil for frying ciabatta or baguette
1. If you do not have hard-boiled eggs on hand, make them first. Place 4 eggs in a pan, just covered with water. Put the lid on the pan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let sit, without disturbing the lid, for 10 minutes. Remove eggs from pan and plunge carefully into very icy water until you are ready to prepare the salad.
2. Make dressing: combine yogurt, mayonnaise, horseradish, and lemon juice in a liquid measuring cup or small pitcher. Set aside.
3. Place potato chunks in a pot with a lid and cover with cold, salted water. Bring to a boil over high heat and leave at a simmer until just tender, about 10 minutes. Test a large potato chunk to be sure they are cooked. Drain in a colander in the sink and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Set aside.
4. Refill potato pot with fresh water. Salt lightly and bring to a rolling boil. When it boils add asparagus and blanch until crisp-tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove asparagus from pan into another pan filled with very icy water.
5. Meanwhile, if using, in a skillet over medium heat, brown the bacon until it is very dark and crisp. Drain on paper towels and set aside. Wipe out skillet and add enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Heat over medium-high until shimmering. Add ciabatta or baguette slices and fry until deep brown on the first side. Quickly and carefully flip the slices and brown on the second side. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate.
6. Assemble the salad: Remove eggs from ice water (or refrigerator if already cooked) and peel them and cut them in half lengthwise. Arrange asparagus, tips pointing to rim of platter. Heap potatoes in the center of the plate (on top of asparagus stems). Drizzle some of the dressing over potatoes and asparagus stems. Arrange halves of eggs around potatoes among asparagus spears. Break up smoked trout and distribute over potatoes, asparagus and eggs. Do the same with bacon, if using. Distribute chopped onion and capers over entire platter. Drizzle everything with more dressing. Serve with croutons on the side.