IT’S BEGINNING TO SMELL A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS
These “diamonds of the kitchen” are the embodiment of gastronomic luxury. Xie Huiqun relishes the ways you can create a truffle-centric menu this festive season.
A truffle-centric Christmas feast
The captivating aroma of a fine truffle is a many-splendoured thing. “Of garlic, honey, wet earth or grass,” describes Giorgio Richiardi, a judge with the Centro Nazionale Studi del Tartufo (National Centre for the Study of Truffles) of Alba, Italy, who judges at truffle competitions held at both the national and regional truffle fairs in Piedmont. Like with wines, the judges would look out for consistency, integrity and, above all, the aroma of the truffles. Truffles, according to the National Centre for the Study of Truffles, are the “fruiting bodies (sporocarps) of fungi” and are in the genus Tuber, and must live in symbiotic relationships with certain trees (oak trees seem favoured). The New Larousse Gastronomique, the quintessential culinary encyclopedia, writes that “truffles are eaten raw or cooked, cut into strips or slices, diced or shredded, in the form of juice, fumet or essence, or simply for their fragrance”. It goes further to describe that if you place truffles in a basket with some eggs, those will make the best boiled eggs ever – a testament of the prowess of their scent. Fans of these aromatic gems may be familiar with the comparatively more affordable summer black truffles and the highly prized (and priced) Périgord black truffles, which are at their best in the late winter. Think: truffles thinly sliced atop warm, buttery, creamy, scrambled eggs; a classic truffle Madeira sauce where chopped black truffle is added at the last minute and gently simmered before butter is added; or a chicken with sliced black truffle tucked under its skin and roasted to a gorgeous golden brown. “There are various types of black truffles, and only one of white truffle, and they can be collected only from mid-september to mid-january. Black truffles can be cooked, sliced and warmed before use. White truffles can only be (used) sliced on top of dishes. They are usually best in warm dishes, but are also good with tartare or soft cheeses,” explains Richiardi, who flew in specially to share his expertise on truffles at an exclusive dinner held in November at one Michelinstarred Braci featuring the coveted Alba white truffle.
“There are various types of black truffles, and only one of white truffle, and they can be collected only from mid-september to mid-january. Black truffles can be cooked, sliced and warmed before use. White truffles can only be (used) sliced on top of dishes; they are usually best in warm dishes, but are also good with tartare or soft cheeses,” explains Giorgio Richiardi.
“The white truffle has a certain delicateness that no other truffles have – it is what makes it so unique and special. We need that delicate aroma to balance the other components. No other types of truffles would do,” says chef- restaurateur Beppe De Vito of illido Group. For De Vito, who created the menu for the abovementioned five-course white truffles degustation dinner together with Braci’s head chef Mirko Febbrile, white truffles are best savoured with hot dishes, as the fragrance is more pronounced that way. He adds that they are also best with produce with sweet and fresh or nutty and earthy flavours, such as root vegetables, tarragon, artichokes, fennel, vinegar, and egg yolk. This exquisite grasp of flavour profiles gives rise to unconventional combinations at the degustation dinner that take the form of dishes such as Mille Crepe, Ricotta di Bufala, Sea Urchin, Caviar and Alba Truffles; Blue Lobster, Autumn Vegetables, Five Peppers Jus and Alba Truffles; and Sendai Wagyu, Scorzonera, IPA, Taleggio and Alba Truffles, where the “white diamond” is shaved over the dishes à la minute for a multi-sensorial experience – guests will first be treated to the wonderful whiff of the white truffle before savouring the dishes proper. For dessert, a homemade white truffle gelato coated with almond chocolate and accompanied by an edible soil, which is made of dried porcini and morels mushrooms, grounded almonds, walnuts aad hazelnut oil and pumpernickel bread. Martin Foo, group executive chef of Crystal Jade Group, shares that it is ideal to enjoy truffles fresh and on its own to fully experience the deep aromas and earthy flavours. The veteran chef, who is known for his modern Chinese dishes, also points out that there are many truffle products available, such as truffle oil, and these can all be used to concoct sauces and stir-fried with meats, seafood or vegetables. “Whole truffles can also be used in doubleboiled soup. The truffle brings out the flavours of the ingredients used in the soup, and gives the broth a rich intense flavour,” says Foo. One creation he has in mind is a soybean milk-based thick soup with shredded winter melon and shitake mushrooms. A touch of white truffle oil is added to enhance the taste of the soup and it will be ideal to top it off with freshly shaved truffles. Most recently, Foo presented his take on Black Truffle Roasted Irish Duck at Crystal Jade Palace at Ngee Ann City, where he is also the resident chef, as part of a special menu that ended its run earlier this September. “Roast meats are an integral part of Cantonese cuisine. We wanted to create a modern rendition by injecting new elements; while still retaining familiar flavours, so as to excite our regular diners, as well as attract younger, potential consumers,” says Foo, who uses black truffles from Italy as “this particular truffle is deeply- aromatic, and not too pungent”. The dish proved so popular that Foo is still getting calls from diners for him to prepare the dish for them (pre-orders can be made a day in advance).