Truffle, known for its distinctive smell and rarity, is back in season. Some hotel chefs launch their seasonal truffle menu this month, integrating their latest thinking into this “diamond in the kitchen” based on respecting its authenticity.
Humid wood, soil after rain, gasoline and even semen are all used to describe its intense aroma. One of the most impressive descriptions comes from Alexandre Dumas, a famous French writer in the 19th century, who said the smell can “on certain occasions, make women more tender and men more lovable.”
“What Mona Lisa is to the art world, truffles are to the world of cooking,” says Alessandro Santi, chef de cuisine at ON56, Grand Hyatt Shanghai.
Truffle’s earthy flavor comes from its unique growing environment, beneath the ground in symbiosis with roots of certain kinds of tree such as cypress and oak.
It grows exclusively in areas with moderate humidity, a warm climate and well-drained soil so that its production is limited.
White truffle is much rarer, four to five times more expensive than the black one because it is grown wild and cannot be cultivated.
It’s not just the price that makes black and white different, but also the smell and the method of preparation.
“Black truffle tastes like soil and wood, with a forest touch, while the white one tastes stronger, like garlic or gas. White truffle cannot be cooked at all whereas black truffle can be cooked a little bit,” says Frank-Elie Laloum, chef de cuisine at Jade on 36 Restaurant of Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai.
According to the two chefs, the best black truffle is from France, while Italy produces the top white truffle. The source matters.
“Black truffle is also available in Spain, east Europe, China and Australia, with very low quality yet a much cheaper price,” chef Santi says.
Truffle is classically sliced and shaved on top of mild food with a creamy taste such as egg, pasta and risotto so that its original character is fully exploited and not overwhelmed.
“It also goes well with mushrooms, meat (grilled or braised, marinated in wine) and certain kinds of fish, sea bass, turbot and scallops, especially,” Santi says.
The two chefs are launching their truffle menu, both presenting truffle in a way balancing the modern and the classic and highlighting its original beauty. Inspired by molecular gastronomy, truffle is made into a foam to fully release its smell and give the mouth a light touch. Two chefs both use truffle to make dessert, showing that it’s not an exclusive complement to savory food.
Italian black truffle
This new a la carte menu includes 13 Italian dishes featuring truffle, from starters to pasta and risotto, from main course and pizza to dessert.
Three among them are recommended.
Beef tenderloin tartare, black truffle and burrata emulsion features diverse textures and balanced flavor. Melt-in-the-mouth beef seasoned with olive oil and salt and pepper complements the earthy truffle, and builds a textural contrast with the creamy burrata.
The main course tortellini filled with fontina cheese, chestnut crumble and white truffle foam shows how creamy, nutty and musky tastes enhance each other.
Dessert chocolate sponge, truffle panna cotta and walnut ice cream features a play on texture.
Venue: ON56, Grand Hyatt Shanghai, 56/F, 88 Century Ave, Pudong
Tel: 5047-1234 ext 8778
Menus of white and black truffles
Chef Laloum’s two set menus, featuring both French black truffle and Italian white truffle, presents the seasonal beauty in a classical way with a modern touch.
The use of slow cooking is a highlight. A good example are the two main courses — turbot fillet slowly cooked, buttered new potatoes, black truffle sabayon (light fluffy custard) and 24-hour braised veal shank, foie gras, root vegetables and black truffle macaroni.
Dessert is black truffle ice cream with chocolate ganache, which is inspired by the chef’s dining in a Michelin two-star restaurant in Paris.
Chicken breast slowly roasted, Albufera sauce, seasonal vegetables and white Alba truffles is a highlight in its white truffle menu.
Venue: Jade on 36, Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai, 36/F, 33 Fucheng Rd