Thursday, January 6, 2011
If you are paying attention in the kitchen your sense of smell can tell you things going on across the room. I know what seared meat smells like, I know when the tomatoes in the oven are perfectly roasted, I know when bread is just about done, all by smell. The smell of truffles, in any form, will flood a kitchen with a warm funk, different from anything else.
Both black and white truffles are some of the most expensive ingredients in the kitchen. They have one of the most aggressive aromas, and flavors. This relative to the mushroom can not be cultivated, and like a porcini, or a chanterelle has to be searched for, and to make it just a little bit harder they grow underground, or at least under ground foliage. They are rumored to give off the exact same smell as a pig in heat and throughout time have been foraged for with a muzzled male pig, or a good hunting dog. Most of the really expensive black truffles come from Europe, places like France, Spain, and Italy hold them on a culinary pedestal, often fetching hundreds of dollars an ounce. Luckily in Oregon we get a small truffle harvest, and while ours aren't as big, or as aromatic, they are still amazing. Our local truffles are often less than half the cost of the imported ones as well.
I am not in the market to buy them for home use. Nor presumably are most of my readers, nor are they something I would recommend that any of you head out and begin to start looking for. The cool thing about truffles is that they store really well, and because their flavor is so aggressive those flavors are often infused into other things that if you are interested in trying truffles, you should be on the lookout for. I will warn you that their flavors are often described using the following terms- musty, dusty, rank, funky, earthy, moldy, rancid, etc. Therefore you probably shouldn't be feeding them to your small children, or anyone who is not on the tad bit adventurous. On the flip side of that if you have had some of the more aggressive mushrooms that exist then truffles are an easy skip.
Truffle oil-Available in both black and white truffle varieties this is simply a good olive oil that has been infused with truffles. It is the most available form of truffles, as any high end boutique grocer should carry it. It will be expensive, but good olive oil is expensive, and it will go a very, very long way. A few drops to garnish a soup, or rice dish is all that you will need to get your point across.
Truffle salt- A while back I had the fortune to be sent to a shop in Portland called "The Meadow", which sells only salt, chocolate, flowers, and wine. They are also a very successful shop, with a new one opening in NYC this winter. The owner of the shop has written a book called "Salt" and I was able to chat briefly with him, and buy an autographed copy of it. Now the kicker as to why I had the fortune of going was that I was sent with a blank company check, and instructed to buy two things, and anything else that looked "cool". Almost $500 later I bailed with some really, really "cool" stuff. Among that was a huge container of black truffle sea salt. The nicest I have ever seen with pieces of truffle (not truffle dust like most) throughout it. Truffle salt should also be available in most of your high end grocery stores, or boutique food shops. Again a little bit goes a long way, and mostly I would use it to finish a dish, not for seasoning throughout. A grilled steak, finished with some butter and some truffle salt will put me on cloud nine for at least three days.
If you do have the fortune to come into any sort of truffles, use them quickly, or store them in rice or melted butter. Either will do a good job of preservation, and in turn will become infused with those flavors. Then when you finish the truffles you can continue to reap the benefits of them. The ones pictured had been packed in butter and are destined for a truffled potato cake as a starch for a lobster and filet dish that I sold the daylights out of on New Years Eve at the restaurant. Thanks for reading.