img_0685Of all the mushrooms, nay, of all the ingredients, that impart a deep, complex flavor to foods, truffles reign. They magically multiply flavor, while adding a mysterious earthiness that’s almost addictive. And the perfume! It’s like a walk in the forest after the rain, but with a seductive muskiness as well.

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At the markets here in Aude, the truffles are inspected. I wrote about them here.

Maybe because they’re rare, expensive and have a short season, truffles don’t often appear on lists of umami ingredients. (Umami is the Japanese term for the fifth taste, after sweet, salty, sour and bitter, which some people scoff doesn’t exist, but obviously I don’t agree with them.) This list does mention truffles, far below dried shiitake mushrooms, so consider them a substitute if you want to make these recipes and can’t get your hands on a truffle. Having grown up with rubbery canned, I hated all mushrooms for years, but I eventually learned to love fresh mushrooms and correctly cooked ones. And, minced and mixed and nearly invisible, they can add a sophisticated je ne sais quoi to recipes.

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At the Talairan truffle market, preparing a tasting of steak tartare au couteau (prepared by mincing, not grinding, the meat), topped with truffle shavings.

41.truffes talairan2 2A little, golf-ball-size truffle goes a long way. We got one just before Christmas and used it on oeufs brouillés, risotto and, for the Carnivore, magret de canard–duck breast–in brandy sauce with truffles and mushrooms. It adorned our meals for over a week. Not bad for a €30 splurge (the price this year was €1,000 a kilogram, down from €1,200 three years ago!)

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Truffle #1, from Moussoulens. Truffle #2, with another recipe, coming soon.
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Duck breast getting flambéed. Tip: the sauce needs to be very hot, and the brandy needs to have a high proof. The Soberano that he used was only 35 proof, and he had to try again with stronger stuff. It gives flavor without the bite of alcohol, which burns off. Video here.
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Don’t think for a minute that recent vegetarian converts had duck!. Our kid made sautéed (but not flambéed) tofu in a Sriracha sauce. No truffles.

Just as the movie stars on the red carpet wear dresses that don’t hide the borrowed diamonds that are dripping from their necks, so, too, dishes that work best with truffles are ones that let the black diamonds, as they’re called, shine. Mild things–eggs, rice, potatoes, polenta…Usually the truffle market includes a huge iron pan–really huge, like three feet across–of brouillade, or oeufs brouillés, kind of like scrambled eggs. Very easy. For extra truffle flavor, put the eggs (in shell) and the truffle in a tightly sealed container–the eggs will absorb the perfume of the truffle.

An omelette, which is fine for one, maybe two, but not great in the face of a crowd. With a brouillade you can cook all the eggs at once. Drop them into a bowl or directly into a cold skillet with butter. Do not beat them! How many? Well, how many does each person want to eat? Two? Three? Dump them all in at once.img_0676Set the heat to low, very low, and break up the eggs gently with a spatula. Keep stirring IN ONE DIRECTION. If there is one thing to remember about French cooking, it’s that you must always stir in one direction–for cakes, for chocolate mousse, for whatever. A little salt and pepper. Keep stirring over low heat. It takes forever, like risotto. The traditional way to make brouillade is over a bain marie, or double boiler, which takes even longer, so don’t complain.img_0680If you have a truffle, then, before you get started, melt some butter. I made this several times, and (unintentionally) browning the butter was even better. Turn off the heat. Drop in some slivers of truffle and let it infuse while you cook the eggs. Don’t cook the truffle.img_0679When the eggs start to “take” or come together, they’re done. They aren’t drippy/snotty (such eggs are called baveux in French–drooling), nor are they fluffy or dry. Similar to risotto, they are creamy, yet there’s no cream.img_0682Then stir in the truffle-infused butter.img_0683Serve immediately with more truffle on top.img_0684Fresh local truffles are one of the more convincing reasons to travel here in winter. Yes, there are summer truffles, but the tuber melanosporum is far more pungent. Are you team truffle?

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20 thoughts on “Truffles Are Always a Good Idea

  1. According to one of my truffle contacts, you should buy truffles in January not December, but most people buy in December so they can consume at Christmas. He says the quality is better in January (due to cold I think).

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    1. When harvested during the second part of the season, truffles have had more time to mature and develop a stronger flavor. When visiting my supplier early February a few years ago, I tasted a raw truffle while I was in his workshop around 10 am. I swear the scent was still lingering in my esophagus a long time after lunch! That’s how potent they can be. So, yes, Diane is correct: a little goes a long way…

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  2. I’m embarrassed to admit that for a long time I really disliked the flavor of truffles. I suspect I used too much, of questionable quality, in my early experimentation with them and robbed myself of the soft palate earthiness everyone raved about – and I think umami is probably the right word for it – and just remember a super funky taste hangover that would last for days. I have had a better experience lately with truffle salt – very mild, and with a delicate flaky salt it makes pedestrian stuff taste magical. I added some to creamed potatoes over the holidays, really nice.

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    1. That’s interesting. I’ve read that truffle oil usually is artificially flavored. One advantage of the markets here is that the truffles are inspected, so those that are bad (they last about 10 days) or fake are sorted out. But I can’t imagine too much truffle. Not rich enough! But also, truffle doesn’t so much have its own flavor, like garlic does, for example, but it amplifies other flavors, kind of the way good stereo speakers bring out the high and low notes without sounding tinny.

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  3. Thank you again for another inspired look at the everyday french cuisine. I’ve always found fascinating that the eggs have a different taste depending on the way one cooks them. I haven’t had yet a full truffle in my hands, so I think it’s quite special to have it easily available when in season. I’m learning so much from you, thank you!

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