To cook or not to cook truffles

From Rosario Safina’s book Truffles, Ultimate Luxury Everyday Pleasure

Fresh white truffles should never be cooked. They should be warmed, though; gentle heat brings out their intoxicating fragrance, but too much will destroy it. That is why white truffles are usually shaved or grated over a plate of warm pasta, or another dish, after it is set in front of the diner – the better to swoon over them.

Black winter truffles can be served raw, sliced paper-thin and incorporated into saldas, for example, but their flavor is usually enhanced when they are warmed or cooked. Long cooking is not generally advised, however, because it will mute their perfume.

Although summer truffles are sometimes cooked, they are their best raw or just warmed. And because they don’t have the overpowering fragrance of white or black truffles, they really should be used in generous amounts. Some chefs boost the flavor of summer truffle dishes by adding truffle juice or garnishing them with truffle oil. Summer truffles are especially good in salads, sliced paper-thin in a shower over dressed greens and tossed with them so they absorb some of the vinaigrette.

Truffles have a remarkable affinity for a wide variety of foods, including some of the most humble. Eggs are one of the most notable, and both black and white truffles appear frequently as their companions. Perhaps because they grow underground, thy pair well with root vegetables, from lowly parsnip to potatoes – potatoes and truffles are one of the most satisfying pairings of all. But veal, scallops, and lobsters, as do certain cheeses – Parmesan and Taleggio, for example – which echo the pungent, earthy flavor.

Although Colette preferred her truffles whole, in noble splendor, even she agreed that they benefited from some fat: “a score or so of smallish strips of bacon, fat, but not too fat, which will give body to the stock (in which the truffles cook).”
Fat, from bacon to cream or butter to foie gras, always brings out the flavor of other ingredients. Grated or sliced black truffles simmered briefly in heavy cream make a delicious sauce, and whole black truffles can be wrapped in pork belly or pancetta before they are baked or roasted. Classic sauce perigueux often contains foie gras in addition to black truffles that give it its name.

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