When hot bacon meets sliced Brussels sprouts, salad happens

A hot bacon dressing, a crispy-edged fried egg and sliced Brussels sprouts star in this meal-worthy take on a classic Southern wilted salad. / David Malosh/The New York Times
A hot bacon dressing, a crispy-edged fried egg and sliced Brussels sprouts star in this meal-worthy take on a classic Southern wilted salad. / David Malosh/The New York Times

The first time I heard a friend praising "wilted salad," the memories came flooding back. They were not entirely good.

I could picture that half-full bowl of droopy, oil-slicked greens sitting in the fridge, left over from the night before. When I was growing up, my mother hated the idea of wasting food so much that she saved uneaten salad for breakfast the next day, often topping it with a fried egg.

My sister and I thought my mother's breakfast salad looked unappetizing, to say the least. I was surprised to hear someone wax rhapsodic about it.

Except my friend was extolling a completely different wilted salad. Popular in the South, it had nothing to do with leftovers and everything to do with nuggets of bacon sizzling in their own fat. When these piping hot drippings are poured over a mound of sturdy lettuce or spinach, they soften it, imbuing it with smoky richness. It sounded a lot better than my mother's thrifty breakfast.

I began by riffing on the Southern version, substituting sliced Brussels sprouts for the greens. I'd done this many times before and I loved the multitude of textures, the way some of the wispier pieces seemed to melt while the thicker ones stayed firm and crunchy. Bacon — that classic best friend of cruciferous vegetables — helped bring out the sweetness of the sprouts and mellowed their bitterness.

On this occasion though, I needed a meal, not a side dish. I remembered my mother's fried egg, the alluring way its runny yolk mingled with the tart and grainy mustard she mixed into the dressing. Maybe she was onto something after all.

While my bacon crisped, I made a cider vinegar dressing, whisking in the requisite grainy mustard and leaving out the little bit of sugar often used in Southern wilted salads for a more assertive tang. The most crucial step, I learned, is to add the bacon to the salad bowl while it's still hissing and crackling. It takes maximum heat to tame hearty Brussels sprouts.

Then I fried the eggs in the same pan I used for the bacon.

The eggs made the salad so substantial I even had leftovers. Channeling my mother, I put them in the fridge. And they tasted just as good for breakfast the next morning.

Bacon, Egg and Brussels Sprouts Salad

Brussels sprouts star in this hearty riff on a wilted salad, giving it more structure and crunch than one with the usual floppy lettuce or spinach, and an egg on top adds heft, turning a side dish into a light main course. There's tangy whole-grain mustard in the vinaigrette, too, which contrasts with the richness of the bacon. Serve this with crusty bread for scooping up the savory bacon fat and egg yolk inevitably left on the bottom of the plate.

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 25 minutes

5 ounces bacon, diced

1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed

2 tablespoons cider vinegar, plus more to taste

1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard

1 garlic clove, finely grated or minced

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

Salt, to taste

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

Handful of chopped or torn herbs, such as cilantro, dill or parsley

4 large eggs

Flaky salt and red-chile flakes, Urfa chile, Aleppo pepper or smoked paprika (optional)

In a medium skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp and browned all over, 5 to 10 minutes.

As the bacon cooks, slice the Brussels sprouts as thinly or thickly as you like. Don't worry about slicing them evenly; a mix of thick pieces and some thin ones is nice in this salad.

In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, garlic, coriander and a small pinch of salt. Slowly whisk in the oil.

Add the Brussels sprouts and herbs to the bowl, and toss well. Pour in the bacon and most of the fat from the pan, leaving a thin film for frying the eggs. Toss salad again, then taste and add more salt, vinegar or oil if needed.

In the skillet, fry the eggs, drizzling in a little more oil if needed. To serve, divide the salad among four places and top each one with an egg. Garnish with flaky salt and chile flakes if you like.

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