This month, we thought it was the right time to introduce the first of our favourite truffle recipes - Truffled and scrambled duck eggs with Tastou fried truffle sandwiches. Simple, fool proof and absolutely exquisite. After all, one may rightly be thinking, “How may I best treat my truffles when harvest day arrives?”. The thought of cooking these ludicrously expensive ingredients can cause a fair amount of apprehension. One cannot simply toss £100 worth of truffles into a Boeuf Bourguignon for 5 hours and expect a magical gastronomic experience. For most recipes it is suggested that 15g of truffles is required per person. Yes, £15 pounds of truffles per person. Ouch. This is why so many of the fabulous 20th Century truffle recipes can no longer be enjoyed by most as the cost associated is so high. Of course, you could always grow your own truffles. Or failing that, perhaps consider adopting a tree. And if you’ve already adopted one, why not consider adopting another!
Now then, we will start with a gentle warm up on the science of Truffles before delving into another of my all time favourite ingredients which makes use of a very similar methodology. To finish, the recipe itself. So, dribble-bibs on everyone and let us begin our quest to discover some guaranteed methods and rules to follow in order to get the very best out of your truffles and kick off your truffle quaffing adventures on the right foot.
Last month, I wrote about my wonderful experience hunting for truffles with the aid of my new best friend, Suillia tuberiperda, the truffle fly (read the article here). That was definitely the 'Amuse Mouche' to this 'Main Course' of a post. Let us start by thinking of how the dog, pig or indeed fly locates truffles. Well, by smelling it of course. So what? Well, this tells us the first and possibly most important piece of information about truffles and their uses in gastronomy - they release volatile chemicals (aromas) into the atmosphere and surrounding soil to such an extent that they can be sniffed out below the surface of the soil even when temperatures are near freezing. As temperatures rise, the rate at which these delightful aromas are expelled from the truffle increases. So from this, one very important conclusion can be drawn: cooking truffles at a high temperature for a long time will drive off nearly all of the compounds that one is hoping to indulge in. As truffles are prized for their incredible aroma and as aroma makes up the majority of what we consider taste, it is imperative that we are able to get as much of this into our noses as possible whilst we are eating them. So, slow cooked truffled beef stew is most likely off the menu for now.
To complicate matters further, truffles don’t simply release one volatile chemical compound into the air. There are a large number of aromatics (at least 17), each with different boiling points that make up the complex and wondrous scent. This means that if you heat a truffle to a hypothetical temperature of say 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees F), you may boil off most of the lightest aromas, whilst some of the larger and less volatile compounds don’t even get a chance of being detected before being guzzled down. So, if each one of these chemicals is wanting to be appreciated at the same mouth watering moment, then we are going to have to think very carefully as to how to allow each one of these to waft up our sniffing apparatus or to stimulate our taste buds at exactly the same moment. For the solution, I turn to another of my obsessions - the brewing of beer. From years of brewing English Ale I have encountered this very same conundrum. Luckily, research and experience has provided me with all the information I need in order to enjoy my ingredients to the fullest.
So, how can the brewing of beer aid us in the correct way to use truffles? Simple. By looking at the methods used to ensure that some the greatest aroma and flavour constituents in beer are quite literally bottled up good and tight until the moment that lavish quaffing commences. You see, we can learn from the way in which hops, the quite incredible Humulus Lupulus, are added to beer in order to impart a whole host of tastes and smells. Just like truffles, hops contain an array of wonderful chemical compounds that we yearn to appreciate. And just like truffles, these components have different temperatures at which they are released into the beer as flavour or indeed the air as aroma. The answer in the case of beer is to add hops at various stages of the process so that each flavour and aroma gets its place in the spotlight.
Allow me to explain: When beer is made, a solution known as wort is created by steeping (mashing) crushed, malted barley in hot water for around 90 minutes. This liquid is then brought to an aggressive boil. At this point the first hop addition is usually made and the solution is boiled for between 1 and 2 hours depending on the recipe. During this time the hops release various chemicals into the solution and surrounding air. The most easily vapourised (the most volatile) components are very quickly released. Sadly, after around 10 minutes, these amazing aromatics are lost to the atmosphere, having been enjoyed by the brewer alone. After a period of around twenty minutes the process has extracted most of the components responsible for the hop flavour in beer. These larger, less volatile parts stay in the solution for a longer period of time. So, if you stopped ‘cooking’ the beer at this point you would have a beer with lots of hop flavour but almost no hop aroma. Depending on the brewing style, this could be a disaster, especially if using Noble hops as they, like truffles, are prized for their aroma oils. However, the beer (wort) carries on boiling for a further hour or so. This is done so that special compounds known as Alpha Acids, which are responsible for the bittering and preservation qualities of the future beer, are released. Sadly, by now, all those lovely hop flavour components have been boiled away too. If only this one addition of hops was added to the wort then you would end up with a beer with possibly an excellent balance of hop bitterness to malt sweetness but with little to no taste or aroma of hops at all. I hope by now you can see where this is going?
Our first homegrown Fuggles hops harvested back in 2010.
The brewer makes several additions of hops to the boil at different times in order to achieve a final product that arrives at the discerning ale guzzler’s thirsty chops with all the necessary bittering, flavouring and aromatic profiles ready to be appreciated. Hops are typically added at 90 minutes, 20 minutes and 5 minutes from the end of the boiling process. Extra hops are also occasionally added to the beer once it is placed in its barrel and is at cellar temperature. This method, known as dry hopping, takes a couple of weeks and allows the very slow release of the most delicate and volatile hop aromas to be extracted AND trapped within the barrel ready for the grand opening. Hops can be utilised as whole cones (as in the picture above) or in pellets comprised of shredded (or one might say 'grated') hops. It is with this example that I hope you will see the logic to the following recipe and through it gain a better understanding as to how science, and in this case the science of brewing, can lead us to truly tastier tucker, especially when cooking with truffles. We must add the truffles at various stages and in various manners in order to stand the best chance of appreciating every last aspect of flavour and aroma that these hideously expensive delicacies have to offer. Your aim is to simultaneously sense all of these compounds at once and unleash a truffle bomb upon your senses and those of your fellow diners!
Some notes about the following recipe.
Obviously, you can use a variety of truffles for this recipe instead of our speciality, the Périgord truffle but you will not yield quite the same results. For example, the summer truffle (see our previous article on the different types of truffle) can be used at a 10th of the cost of the Périgord truffle. However, it is worth noting that the summer truffle only contains around a 100th of the amount of aromatic compounds of the Diamant Noir, Tuber Melanosporum. So strangely enough, the Périgord truffle, even at £1000 per kilogram is somewhat of a bargain compared to its lesser summer cousin.
Another point about this recipe, which no doubt you will have guessed already, is that it will take several days of careful planning. No individual stage is particularly time consuming or arduous but it does mean you can’t just whip this up from scratch in 20 minutes.
You will also note that the recipe contains quite a variety of fats. The reason for this is simple. Most of the prized aroma and flavour compounds from truffles dissolve in fats so without them it will be hard to extract what you are after.
Although surface area is very important, one should not take a microplane or similar to the truffle for all aspects of the dish even if that is scientifically the best way of extracting the most flavour and aroma compounds from a truffle. The texture of a fresh truffle must also be appreciated and to shave or grate it into microscopic pieces will not give the diner the full gastronomic effect that these wonderful ingredients can offer. Let us also remember that we eat with our eyes. Seeing the beauty of the truffle, with it’s incredible interior patterns is important too.
Don’t be tempted to add anything else to recipe unless you are absolutely sure it will enhance it. For example. Pepper? No! Too harsh. Parsley? NO! Chives? NOOOO!!! Ketchup?!?! Please unsubscribe from Black Diamond Truffle Trees immediately.
It is the opinion of the author that this plate of truffled scrambled eggs needs those chives as much as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel needs a coat of brilliant white emulsion!
(Sir Lenworth Henry, Chef! - someone who believes that the most important aspects of cooking are 1. Ingredients. 2. Timing and 3. Restraint.)
Black Diamond scrambled duck eggs with Tastou fried truffle sandwiches.
Prep time: Days.
Cooking time: Surprisingly fast.
Eating time: Unsurprisingly fast.
For the scrambled eggs:
6 duck eggs (higher fat content and richer than chicken eggs)
6 tablespoons of double cream
Salt (no pepper)
10g of very finely grated / microplaned Périgord Truffle.
For the Tastou fried truffle sandwiches:
4 medium (not thick) slices of very high quality pain de campagne (torte) / high hydration sourdough bread
Enough butter for spreading
10 grams of finely sliced Périgord Truffle
Pinch of fleur de sel or Maldon salt (even better)
10g finely grated or finely sliced (your choice) Périgord truffle
Grated Parmezan (optional). This is a great way to season the dish if you haven’t added enough salt to your eggs.
Three days before cooking, place your truffles in a sealed container with the uncracked eggs. Place in the fridge. The aromas given off will be absorbed by the eggs through their porous shells.
The day before cooking, prepare the Tastou truffled sandwiches. Start off by spreading each piece of bread with butter. Place the freshly sliced/shaved truffles on top of two of the pieces. Sprinkle lightly with some salt and place the remaining two remaining slices of buttered bread on top of the truffles. The order from top to bottom is: Bread, butter, truffle and salt, butter, bread. A true truffle sandwich. Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge so that the truffles can start infusing the butter and the bread.
Cooking time! Make the fried truffle sandwiches by first removing them from the fridge and taking off the clingfilm. Place a non-stick frying pan on a medium to low heat. Add a small piece of butter (just enough to lightly coat the pan) and add the sandwiches. Cook them on both sides until they are golden brown and crispy. Do not worry so much here about overheating the interior as the aromas and flavours will be mostly trapped within the sandwich. Remember, although overcooking truffles is a disaster, eating them cold is not much better. At the moment you turn the sandwiches it is probably best to start cooking the eggs so that everything can be ready at the same time.
Lightly whisk the eggs, the cream and a large pinch of salt (or more according to taste). Freshly grate in 10g of truffle (reserved from the container that has been in the fridge with the eggs).
Heat a small non-stick frying pan for a minute or so, then add a knob of butter and let it melt but not brown.
Pour in the egg mixture and let it sit, without stirring, for 30 seconds. Stir gently, lifting and folding it over from the bottom of the pan.
Let it sit for about 10 seconds then stir and fold again.
Repeat until the eggs are just set yet slightly runny in places. Remove from the heat and leave for a moment to finish cooking. Despite the grated truffles within being heated to a moderate temperature, much of their aromas and flavours remain trapped in the eggs.
Give a final stir and serve alongside the truffle sandwiches. Freshly grate the remaining truffle and/or place the slices of truffle over the eggs WHILST the eggs are still hot. If you’re feeling particularly indulgent add some quite thick slices (1-2 mm thick) of truffle so you can also enjoy the incredible, almost chewy texture of the truffle. Ideally the added truffle would be heated to around 40C which is a very good temperature for allowing many of the various compounds to shine. Sit down at once to enjoy the sights, the tastes and the aromas of this dish. Perhaps give a thought to where the truffle came from, the mysterious way it came to be through its most unusual growing cycle and the thousands of years of history that have surrounded these amazing gastronomic wonders. Bon appetite!
And there you have it. Nothing too glam’, nothing too glitzy. Where’s the caviar? Where’s the foie gras? Not needed. The beauty of cooking with truffles is to make use of subtle ingredients with high fat content or neutral tasting carbohydrates. Let the truffle elevate the ordinary to the extraordinary. Sit down to this supper in front of the fire with a glass of great wine and realise that those long winter evenings are not quite so bad after all.
A quick note about the photos. You are probably wondering where the photo is of the final dish? Well, whilst we like to use our own photos as much as possible, there are certain times where we have had to make use of others. Please forgive us for not whipping out the SLR when we ate this just before Christmas, but it didn’t even cross our dribbly little minds.
And finally, to the Beer Lovers out there, I suppose the final question you may have is whether or not Black Diamond Truffle Trees will be brewing a Black Diamond Winter Ale any time soon? Well, of course we bloody well will! Keep following to find out more.