Commercially Preserved Black Truffles are much cheaper than the top-quality fresh White sort, but still add a sensual depth to many dishes.
The name ‘Truffles’ has a rather a certain cachet to it when it comes to dining, much as do ‘Champagne’, or ‘Beluga Caviar’. Certainly, some of that comes from the luxury prices attached to these sort of things, but, by the same token, the price is often a reflection of highly desirable qualities. The Truffle can be a bit prohibitively expensive for average weekly food shopping bill, but the beauty of such a purchase is that a little can be stretched a long way
What are Truffles?
Truffles are a type of fungus that grown underground, often in the root systems of certain trees, especially oaks. They are particularly associated with the cuisines of Italy and France, each of which produces some of the best varieties, but they are also favored in Greece, Spain and the Middle East.
There are actually many different species but, generally, you hear them of them as either being ‘White Truffles’ (chiefly Italian) or ‘Black Truffles’ (from the Perigord region in France). In point of fact, though, one of the more common, and thus cheaper, varieties is the ‘Summer Truffle’, which is the type you see pictured above.
Generally, the White Truffle is held in highest esteem and is, as one might expect, the most costly. The Black are much more commonly found in restaurant dishes containing truffles, and generally more widely available for purchase, but the fact that they are more common doesn’t mean they are actually of poorer quality. Some people even prefer them to the White type.
The two tiny ones I purchased, and which are shown above, are from Italy, preserved in brine, and they cost $20.00 in a specialty market in Ottawa. The quality of the preserved sort is noticeably less than fresh, it must be said, but the variety, though not as prized as its more expensive cousins, has a lovely aroma and flavor all its own.
What do Black Truffles Taste Like?
Here, you can see the inside of a Truffle which has been sliced in half. It has a tough rind, but the flesh inside is soft and smooth, with an almost fleshy appearance. The aroma of the brine pickled Truffle once sliced is rather muted but the essential qualities all come through in the taste.
As for the taste, this is extremely difficult to describe. There is certainly a fungus quality, but it is not like that of a fresh mushroom, but more like the richer smell of one cooked in butter against a background of the earthier tons of a basket of dried ones. There is also a perfume quality (more apparent in the taste than the aroma), that gives the overall effect a slightly sweet, aromatic effect. Beyond that, it is not easy to say more other than the taste is sufficiently distinct that you will always recognize it in a dish.
Using Black Truffles in the Kitchen
In order to use Preserved Black Truffles, you will need to remove the touch outer rind. This takes a bit of care so as not to hack up the soft inner flash to badly, and be reduce to scraping bits of it away from tiny fragments of rind.
There will, however, invariably be a little flesh left on the rind, and the rind does carry some flavor too. Rather than waste it, you can save it in oil and have the oil infused with the flavor. This is not really worth it for a very small amount of Truffle, but if you have more than a few, it seems to waste the scraps when you can make your own Truffle Oil.
Black Truffles in Recipes
Truffle can be used raw in some preparations, especially as a flavorful garnish, and it requires just a little cooking in prepared dishes. A little can go along way to infusing sauces and the like with its rich flavor. It is especially suited, but not limited to Pasta dishes.
This simply named Pasta with Truffles and Cream uses the same basic technique as a Carbonara, but enhances the dish with Garlic, a few truffle pieces added at the last minute, and a few splashes of Cream
This appetizer of Seared Scallops with Truffles uses very thin slices of the Black Fungus, warmed only by a Lemon-infused Butter, as a rich, edible garnish.