"Ye, the first parents of the human race, whose gourmandise is mentioned in history, you who ruined yourself for an apple, what would you not have done for a truffled turkey?"
— Jean Antheleme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste
Unless you live near the forest and keep a trained pig, black truffles are a luxury item. An ounce is of those things you really can't justify purchasing.
There's always something else that's more practical, more important... A bill. A water filter. A dentist appointment. Ointment for your pet pig's snout rot.
I suspect that's why one of my coworkers teared up on seeing the black truffles my boss gave each of us over the holidays. Twelve black truffles nestled into twelve little cups of white rice. They were ugly. They were beautiful. I was immensely pleased.
What I immediately learned is that the gift of a truffle isn't simply a gift, it's a culinary challenge. I'd had truffle oil and truffle butter, of course, but I'd never had a truffle in my hands. Never cooked with one. A truffle neophyte, was I.
Our company lawyer enthused about the wonders of truffled eggs. "Just put your truffle in the refrigerater in a container with a dozen eggs," he said. "In a day or so, you'll have truffle-flavored eggs. It's amazing. They're great in omelettes or scrambled."
My Larousse Gastronomique agreed.
"When you feel like eating boied eggs, if you have some truffles in the house, put them in a basket with the eggs and the next day you will have the best boiled eggs you have ever tasted in your gastronomic life." (M. des Ombiaux)
Perfect. Two days of downtime with the eggs would buy valuable time while I decided what to do with my stinky little friend. I put my truffle in a zip-top freezer bag with a dozen organic eggs and rested the nest on the bottom shelf of the fridge, a decision I'd soon regret.
The next day, my boss asked if I'd used my truffle yet. No, I hadn't.
He had already made a special trip to Raffetto's on Houston street to pick up some of their artisanal pasta.
"Have you been to this place? They make it right there in front of you. It's been there for a million years or something. But I gotta say, it was the most bizarre experience. As I was buying the pasta, people were doing some kind of confessional at the checkout line. To the checkout clerks. Amazing stuff. Stuff like, 'You don't know what your pasta means to me and my family.' 'It's not the holidays if we don't have your pasta.' And you could tell they meant it. All these amazing quotes just pouring out of people. And yeah, the pasta's pretty great."
He'd been thinly shaving his truffle over cream-sauced pasta and using truffle butter on bread, potatoes, steamed green beans... everything. "When you peel the skin off the truffle, before you slice it," he said, "save the peelings and put them in some butter. You can amp truffle butter up with truffle oil, too."
My boss was using his a cheap plastic mandoline to shave his truffle. Thanks to my outrageously expensive culinary school degree, I figured I could make paper-thin slices with my super-sharp knives. Some of my other coworkers were less confident about their truffle-handling prowess. "Are you getting a slicer for it? I'm going to check at Macy's to see if they have them there."
By this time I'd decided that my truffle would meet its end in a truffled roast turkey. After all, the great Rossini (clearly a fellow who knew how to eat) claimed to have wept only three times in his life: "Once when my first opera failed. Once again, the first time I heard Paganini play the violin. And once when a truffled turkey fell overboard at a boating picnic."
On Christmas Eve, I went to the refrigerator (it was strangely fragrant as I opened the door) and discovered that the my lumpy black compatriot had scented the dozen eggs, yes. He'd also assaulted the milk, the cream, the pitcher of water, the sticks of butter. Everything permeable tasted of truffles. Apparently, a zip-top plastic bag was no match for the power of truffle.
As I sipped my cup of truffle-scented coffee, I decided to douse the little guy with olive oil, which would, with any luck, seal in the truffle power and gently scent the oil. With scent that strong, who needs a pig? I feel like I could root out truffles on my own.
Soon after, I made the truffled turkey. It was good. Was it transformative? Maybe I needed to slice up few more truffles to really open the gates of gourmet heaven.
My favorite part of my truffle experience was actually the simplest usage: a schmear of truffle butter across good fresh bread while I waited for the turkey to cook.
Second-favorite usage? A truffled turkey pot pie made with the leftovers. But then, who can't be wooed with homemade pot pie, truffles or no? If you don't happen to have truffles, throw some sliced mushrooms into the vegetable mix. It'll still be tasty.
Truffled Turkey Pot Pie
1 prepared pie crust
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 Tbsp truffle butter
3 Tbsp flour
2 cups chicken stock
2 small potatoes, scrubbed and diced
2 cups truffled turkey, chopped
2 Tbsp parsley, chopped (optional)
1 egg yolk, beaten
1 prepared pie crust
1 6" x 6" sheet puff pastry, thawed
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Pierce the pie crust with a fork several times and bake for 15 minutes, or until very lightly browned.
3. Meanwhile, heat a tall-sided skillet or heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat and pour in the olive oil.
4. Cook the onions, celery and carrots about 10 minutes.
5. Melt in the truffle butter.
6. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes.
7. Add chicken stock and bring to a simmer.
8. Add potatoes and simmer until fork-tender.
9. Stir in turkey and parsley (if using). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
10. Pour mixture into baked pie crust.
11. On a floured surface, roll out the puff pastry until it's large enough to cover the pie shell. Trim away any overlapping pastry.
12. Cover the pot pie with the rolled pastry and brush the top with the beaten egg. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until crust is golden. Serve hot.