Chef turned truffle grower David Coomer gives us the lowdown on getting the most from this precious ingredient. From storage and preservation methods, to flavouring techniques and his opinion on “the biggest waste of time.”
“My method is the don’t put it in fucking rice method like so many people do,” laughs David Coomer, “It doesn’t preserve the truffle. It flavours your rice a little but it pulls moisture from the truffle because rice is a dry product and truffles are a wet product. Water seems to find equilibrium, so basically the rice sucks the moisture out of the truffle. I always find that while you get a little flavour in your arborio rice once you start cooking and taste without any added truffle it’s pretty vague; especially when you start putting a bit of heat on it, with the 18 or 20 minutes it takes to cook a risotto.”
A better way to maintain the best possible condition is to refrigerate it in a sealed bag or container with a little bit of paper towel says Coomer. “We supply all our retail truffles individually vacuum packed. They’re on about 80 percent vacuum” he says. “That’ll keep it for about two weeks.”
Storing truffles with eggs, an often-suggested method of storage is says Coomer, not a storage solution as such. “It’s more like a flavouring method. So, if you want to do scrambled eggs with a truffle tomorrow morning, you get the truffle you’re going to use on your scrambled eggs and seal it in a jar or a container with your eggs and you’ll get a bit of flavour penetration.” How dramatic the effect is depends on the amount of truffle and the length of time you leave them together.
“I think it’s the biggest waste of time ever,” says Coomer when asked about truffled salts. “It picks up the flavour of the truffle but again shelf-life is a problem. It’s not like you put a truffle in salt and things aren’t going to go strange with it. You’ve still got a fresh product sitting in salt. If you buy a truffle, I think the best way to use it is to just slice it on. Why make a truffle salt and put it on a hunk of rump steak? Put some salt on the meat and finish it with truffle. You’re going to get a lot more bang for your buck doing it that way than trying to just stretch it across a whole lot of mediums that aren’t necessarily the best way to do it.“
Turning to fresh truffle oil (opposed to the widely available and derided synthetic products) Coomer says it’s “definitely not a medium for storage. I’d keep it in the fridge and use it within a couple of days as a finishing oil or a base for a vinaigrette. When I’ve done truffle oil in restaurants, we’ve just done a batch for the service and that’s pretty much it. You don’t go out and buy the best first press olive oil either, because it’s too pungent. I’d blend grapeseed and olive oil just to lighten it down, so you’ll get some nice flavours from your olive oil and the truffle.”
While most of us don’t have the problem of surplus truffle, freezing it is an option; something that professional kitchens do at a higher level. “I’ll put it straight into a vacuum bag, no paper towel, because you’ll end up with a whole lot of wet, soggy paper, vacuum bag it and freeze it as is. It’s that simple.” Frozen it will have potentially three months use before it starts “tasting a little bit wet dog.” The suggested use from frozen is to microplane, not shave, as the texture is compromised by the freezing process. “It’s a different flavour to fresh truffle,” adds Coomer. “You lose some of those really nice high points of flavour and aroma that you get out of a fresh truffle but it’s an option.” While Coomer’s advice is very much to use black truffle fresh, in season and don’t be sparing to the point of muting its effect, he does have one parting tip if you want your truffle fix to last beyond the season has ended. Rather than freezing the truffle itself, make a batch of demi-glace sauce using truffle and you’re stocked up far beyond the season’s end.