Truffles have a uniquely decadent, earthy flavor and aroma that lend a luxurious taste to even the simplest dishes. That flavor was the inspiration behind our new truffle oils and salts, which add the signature truffle taste to everyday dishes like pasta and risotto. For more insight into these sought-after ingredients, we turned to Ken Frank, chef/owner of La Toque in Napa and host of the Napa Truffle Festival. Read on for his best tips and creative ideas for cooking with truffles.
Truffles have been one of my favorite ingredients from the very first time I tasted them fresh, in 1978. There is something almost primal about their perfume, irresistible.
What are some of your favorite ways to use truffles in cooking?
The best way to cook with truffles is usually very simple. Powerful as the flavor is, it is also easy to drown it out. Truffles do best with eggs, mild fresh cheese, butter and olive oil, and chicken (under the skin!) The flavor compounds that give truffles their unique taste are very volatile. They have “flash points” well below boiling, so long simmering, which works so well to extract flavor from most things, is counter-productive with truffles.
Are there any unexpected uses you’ve found?
One of the best things you can do is store fresh truffles in a tightly sealed jar with whole fresh eggs for 24 to 48 hours. The amount of flavor they absorb right through the shell is amazing. Beat this “truffled’ egg into some melted butter, toss with fettucine, shave some more truffle on top, and it’s the perfect truffle dish.
One of the most unexpected uses is in ice cream or crème brulee. Replace vanilla with finely chopped fresh truffle when you’re making the custard base.
Why go to the trouble of using fresh truffles versus preserved?
The key to truffles is their incredible perfume. Frozen and canned truffles have some flavor, but the magic of the perfume is gone. You only get that magic with fresh truffles.
Truffles should be used quickly once you get them. The flavor fades very quickly. By the time they’re 10 days old the flavor really begins to diminish. For a long time it was believed best to store truffles in rice to keep them from molding, but the best practice for the last 15 years has been to wrap them individually in a clean paper towel and keep them in the fridge. Do not let them freeze; keep them in the vegetable bin.
How can you make the truffle flavor really shine in dishes? How do you make them taste their best?
Again, the best way to do this is keep it simple and be sure to use enough. I always say go big or go home. Truffle is expensive, but a little bit of truffle is frustrating. Use enough to really enjoy it.