Use more truffle: LA Times gets it right

I usually whinge about mainstream journalists getting truffles “wrong”, but here’s a chance to applaud someone for getting it right. S Irene Virbila in the LA Times has certainly done her research:

“Just for the record, though, when French three-star chef Paul Bocuse makes his scrambled eggs with truffle, he uses an astonishing 7 ounces of truffle for eight eggs, or just about one of the truffles we received for each egg! No butter for the maestro either, as he tells it in his 1992 cookbook, “Regional French Cooking” — just a mere dollop of crème fraîche. And once he whisks the eggs with the truffles, he leaves the bowl to sit for an hour to further infuse the eggs with the taste of truffles before he cooks them.”

Her point is that it makes sense to use truffles generously, to get a real hit of the flavour, not to try and stretch them to the point that they are all but undetectable. It’s a good point, well made.

Another good article on the truffle business appeared in the New York Times (registration required) recently. The author even manages to sneak in a quote from me (she was at the dinner in Barcelona I blogged before Christmas). The person most pleased, however, is Ian Hall. The NYT used one of his pictures. Fame and photographic fortune beckons. Or not.

A strange thing to do with a chicken

There is a traditional French truffled chicken dish called Poularde en demi-deuil, or chicken in half-mourning, in which a chicken has slices of black truffle inserted under its skin. You then leave the chicken for a few hours to infuse with the truffle flavour, and then poach it in a stock. When it comes out, the black slices shine through the white skin. There is a picture of a chicken roasted in half mourning in The Truffle Book

In the Spanish Pyrenees, however, a few hours infusing is not enough. This thread on eGullet (wonderful name!) describes — with graphic and sometimes beautiful pictures — the preparation of a traditional Christmas dish. Chickens are stuffed (with foie gras, milk, breadcrumbs and black truffle) then wrapped in linen and buried in the ground for up to two weeks. The precise time depends on how cold the ground is — at that time of year it’s close to freezing, which it would have to be to stop the chickens rotting. When nicely done, the chickens are slow roasted, and almost certainly delicious. I’d like to conduct some confirming research, of course… [Link via Boing Boing]

Two meals

Two very contrasting meals in two successive nights: one, a truffle dinner in a French home, the other a modern Spanish meal with the chef playing Fat Duck or El Bulli-style tricks.

The truffle dinner was spectacular, both for the quantity of truffle involved and the quality of the food, but the most important factor was – as it should always be at dinner — the warmth of the welcome. As we stood around the kitchen chatting over the Louis Roederer champagne, the canapes of pate de foie gras de canard truffé (hand-made for our hosts with not less than 10% truffle, and generously garnished with same) were being constructed. Meanwhile, thin truffle toasts were heating in the oven: simple, and wonderful. Two thin slices of sourdough pain de campagne sandwiching slices of truffle, buttered and seasoned and slightly crispy from the oven. The most truffly thing I’ve eaten in a long time, and I’ve eaten a lot of truffle recently. Then I helped to stir the truffle into the mashed potatoes: great big, almost crunchy lumps of truffle stirred into potatoes cooked in milk and butter, served with a saucisse de Toulouse, specially prepared for the family with large chunks of truffle inside. Put the two together, and you have an obviously simple but also incredibly luxurious dish. Magnificent. A few bottles of good Cahors red, and a good time was guaranteed for all. My thanks to P-J and B. A meal that will live in the memory for a long time.

The second meal (Manairo Restaurant, Barcelona) was also good: inventive, even exciting food, but it couldn’t help but suffer in comparison. There were moments of surprise, like the little parcel served in a spoon containing a creamy soup, or the squid bits spooned steaming with dry ice into little shot glasses of intensely pea-green soup, and there were moments of pleasure, but I struggled to really get into it all. Perhaps the fact that much of the dishes were reinventions of Catalan classics that I had no reference for made it difficult, or perhaps the waiter’s introductions were losing something because we forced him to do them in English. Either way, fun, expensive and worth eating, but the food will be forgotten long before the previous night’s. Thanks, Heidi, for the meal.

And the really sad thing about both meals? On the last days of the Spanish tour, I picked up the cold doing the rounds of the bus. I spent much of the weekend in France exploding with cold, and I still haven’t recovered my nose or tastebuds. So much to taste, so little to taste it with. Bugger.

Markets, truffles and food

I haven’t got time to post any of the pictures from the last week, or to really do justice to events or meals – not tonight, at least – but I would like to mention vultures. In two truffle expeditions in Spain last week, in the Alto Tajo national park and in the hills not far from Pamplona, vultures were wheeling over head while we watched men and dogs find truffles. I was ready for the truffles, but the birds were something of a shock.

In the latter truffiere, in the unpronounceable but charming village of Ollogoyen, the lead truffle dog was called Lycos – “because she’s a search engine”. Perhaps Peg’s successor will be called Google. Sponsorship possibilities…

Some food highlights: the Spanish take on black pudding – a sort of blood sausage without the skin; the mushroom lunch which finished with a “coffee” made from Trompettes de mort macerated with sweet coffee, with a cappuccino foam made from porcini cream (and the chef looked like Peter Sellers); and a truffle omelette in a modest auberge in Cahors that had more good truffle in it than most five course truffle dinners. It helps when France’s leading truffle wholesaler is sitting at the same table and picking up the tab.

In France, we’ve seen the new truffieres of the Richelieu region just south of the Loire, the famous truffle market of Lalbenque, the Pebeyre truffle operation in Cahors, and been shepherded around local truffieres by top French truffle expert Pierre Sourzat and his dog Bou-Bou. I also have 80gm of truffle in the minibar in my hotel room, by way of a present for my kind hosts in London.

Tonight we dine chez Pebeyre, and I suspect truffle may be involved. Tomorrow we drive to Barcelona, and dinner with an American truffle importer on her yacht in the harbour. Then London and NZ. I have to say that I’m looking forward to getting back to my family and my trees. And losing some weight.