WHITE truffles are known as "the diamond in the kitchen" and black truffles are "the black diamonds," both among the world's most expensive delicacies.
This is the season for aromatic white truffles, harvested wild in small quantities in Europe, and now featured in a new menu at Cucina, the Italian restaurant at Grand Hyatt Shanghai.
There are both white and black truffles in summer and winter; black and white are different species. Tastes are different, too, in different seasons.
"This year, the white truffle harvest is much smaller than in the past because of insufficient rain in Europe, which makes it more expensive, and the truffle season is a little late," says Michael Dinges, executive chef at Grand Hyatt Shanghai, who has just launched his truffle menu.
Truffles, black and white, are the fruiting bodies of subterranean mushrooms growing in symbiotic relationships with various trees species. Black truffles are very dark, earthy, even chocolaty in flavor.
White truffles are lighter in flavor but the aroma is distinctive, with notes of garlic, shallots and musk. All truffles contain trapped gas, but white truffles have more of the gas and hence, when they are sliced, more is released. Cooking reduces aroma and taste of white truffles, but black truffles tend to be cooked.
Though truffles are grown in southwestern China's Yunnan Province, many chefs prefer those grown in Europe, notably Italy and France.
The white truffle harvested in Italy's Piedmont region, considered Europe's top production area, generally costs around 170 yuan (US$27.30) per gram, Dinges says.
"That's why when I create a dish using truffles as main ingredients, I focus on sourcing quality truffle and highlighting its natural aroma and flavor," he adds.
He gives some tips for sourcing good truffles.
"Quality truffles cannot be too wet or the inside texture will be spongy and that makes it difficult to be shaved thinly," the chef says.
He emphasizes that a good truffle has a nicely marbled inside and fresh aroma.
"For white truffle dishes, I follow the rule of pairing it with light ingredients so its mild taste is not overpowered. I prefer shaving it on scrambled eggs or homemade pasta, just simply sautéed with butter."
He has launched 12 truffle dishes, from appetizers and pasta to main courses. He recommends Forty Egg Yolks Tajarin, a kind of pasta, and pan-seared turbot with poached quail egg and artichoke juice.
"Eggs and truffles are a natural golden pairing," he says. One kilogram of Tajarin pasta contains 40 egg yolks.
Aromatic truffles go well with mild and not-too-fatty seafood, such as turbot, he says.
Hotel sommelier Inge Zwick selects five white wines and 11 reds to pair with truffle dishes.
All the wines are from Italy's Piedmont region, sharing the same terrior with the truffles. Zwick says food and wine with the same terror "create a special kind of harmony."She shares basic rules of paring wine with white truffles.
For light dishes, such as pasta and eggs, she choose light white wine with high mineral content, because its long-lasting flavor goes well with the lingering taste of truffle.
Venue: Cucina, Grand Hyatt Shanghai, 56/F, 88 Century Ave, Pudong
Tel: 5049-1234 ext 8778
Availability of the new menu depends on the restaurants truffle stock. Checking in advance is suggested.