Peeled from the tip down and trimmed at the base, they went into a wide, high-sided skillet filled with generously salted boiling water and cooked for about 4 minutes, or until they could be easily pierced with the tip of a knife.
Normally, I’d transfer the spears to a kitchen towel or paper towels, pat them dry and serve them. But last week, because I was doing everything ahead, I plunged them into a bowl of ice water to cool them and set their color, patted them dry and left them until dinner time.
Now here’s where my new technique came in …
When I wrangled everyone to the table, I ducked into the kitchen, spread the asparagus out on a large plate, drizzled them with olive oil, tossed them with my hands to get them lightly coated and then I laid them out on a hot grill pan. A couple of minutes on the pan and they were warm. I moved them back to the plate, tossed them again – this time with (a pistachio oil) vinaigrette – arranged them on plates, added the ham and the poached egg (which I’d also made ahead – I reheated the eggs in a bowl of hot water) and headed back to the dining room.
The starter was great, but it was the boil-and-grill technique that made me happiest.