Truffles are not a food item that we are able to indulge in very often; they’re really freakin’ expensive (upwards of $1k/kilo, wholesale), and are only available for a few months of the year. Actually, have we ever had shaved truffles?
We’re not even sure. But we’re positive that we’ve had truffle oil, which appears on dishes at restaurants where you can get out for under $50 a person. And you know what? We haven’t loved it; the taste is so intense that it tends to overwhelm everything else on the plate. We felt bad about this because truffles are sophisticated and if we didn’t like truffle oil, did that mean that we were unsophisticated? Quel horreur!
So it came as both relief and disgust to read in today’s NYTimes Dining Section that truffle oil…isn’t made from truffles! In fact, not just most, but all truffle oil on the market is basically olive oil spiked with some of the few chemical compounds that make truffles taste like truffles. The end result is a liquid with “one-dimensional flavor” (obviously, not all the compounds in truffles are represented) that has never been anywhere near a mushroom. We feel so much better that what we’ve recoiling from is really just artificial flavoring, and not something too complex and wonderful for us to understand.
That said, it is possible to make truffle oil “work” in a dish, provided it’s used sparingly. Even Grant Achatz dabbles in the stuff: “I used to use white truffle oil a lot, but now I only use a little bit in my liquid black truffle ravioli…it adds a little more perfume, a slightly different flavor.” Achatz goes on to say that “…it doesn’t even taste like truffle.”
Oh well, another secret revealed. Wanna check it out for yourself? You can buy a bottle of the stuff at your finer gorcers, and you can find truffle oil featured in dishes around Chicago (aside from at Alinea). The Cape Cod Room has an oven-roasted Amish chicken with truffle oil (Amish chicken breast with choice of baked, mashed or au gratin potato & Vegetable of the Day, $23), and on the other end of the culinary spectrum, Wakamono has a red snapper sashimi appetizer with truffle oil for $8. Riccardo Trattoria has a porcini mushroom risotto with truffle oil for $18, and you can even get truffle oil afloat - namely, on the Odyssey Cruises, where one of the dinner salad options (baby frissee, radiccio and other exotic greens tossed with shaved parmesan cheese and yellow tear-drop tomatoes) is served with a truffle oil vinaigrette. Unless you like that explosion of artifice Americans sometimes crave, we advise you request that the kitchen go light.
Hocus-Pocus, and a Beaker of Truffles [NYTimes]
Alinea [Official Site]
Cape Cod Room [MenuPages]
Cape Cod Room [Official Site]
Wakamono [Official Site]
Riccardo Trattoria [MenuPages]
Odyssey Cruises [MenuPages]
Odyssey Cruises [Official Site]
[Photo: Sabatino Tartufi]