Things to do with a truffle #1

Let us suppose you are fortunate enough to get your hands on a truffle. A lovely fresh Perigord black truffle (Tuber melanosporum) of decent size. It doesn’t need to be large if it’s a good one — and with this season’s NZ selling price steady at NZ$3,750/kg (roughly E2,000/kg or US$1,100/lb), it’s unlikely to be a very big one, at least for personal use. I emphasise the words “good” and “fresh”. It is possible to spend a lot of money on little jars of preserved truffle, but though they have a role in cuisine, their flavour is a pale shadow of the fresh truffle. Many of those jars also contain truffles other than the echt melanosporum, but you might need a magnifying glass to discover that from the label.

A good truffle is a smelly truffle. A perfectly ripe truffle will smell wonderful and have a distinctly black interior veined with white. Less than ripe truffles will have less colour in the flesh and have less aroma. A truffle that’s getting too old will smell much less attractive — more like rotting cabbage. Experience is the best guide, but unless you have access to loads of truffles it’s an expensive education. That’s one of the reasons why I’m trying to grow them…

This winter our trainee truffle hound, the amazingly charming Peg, did more than become New Zealand’s first champion truffle dog, she found her first real truffles. Her remuneration was a perfect little truffle, but I swapped that for very large meaty bone. I don’t know who was more excited, me or the dog, but if I’d had a tail it would have been wagging hard.Truffles have an affinity for eggs, so here’s what you do with your first truffle. Get some eggs. Fresh, free-range eggs, the sort produced by chickens that live in lovingly hand-tended hen houses with designer runs and plenty of things to peck, preferably with a little light classical music playing while they lay. Good eggs. Take a plastic box with a tight fitting lid (I never thought I’d find Tupperware interesting), line it with kitchen paper then fill it with the eggs and put the truffle inside. Close the lid tightly, and put the box in the warmest part of the fridge. Leave it there as long as possible. This requires willpower, but if you can last 24 hours the result will be worth it.Take the eggs out of the box. Melt some butter in a frying pan. Make scrambled eggs, and while they’re scrambling gently, shave some truffle into them. Put the remainder of the truffle back in the box with some more eggs. Eat your brouillade, because that’s what you’ve just made, with some red wine and good bread (sourdough, lovingly hand-kneaded by a Paris-trained maiden, for preference). I hate waiters who present your food and then command you to “enjoy!”, but in this case, I’ll make an exception. Enjoy. Repeat until you run out of eggs and truffle. In this way, I was able to stretch that little truffle a long way. In fact, even after I had eaten the last crumbs of truffle, the left-over eggs were still powerfully aromatic. Truffled fried eggs and bacon for breakfast? Not to be sneezed at .Next time I get some fresh truffle — which is unlikely to happen until next June, at the earliest — I will also try storing the things with rice. Just as the eggs absorb the scent, so the rice becomes infused, and makes a delicious risotto. Or so I’m reliably informed. I shall enjoy confirming that observation.

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