Adding extraordinary with truffle

Culinary Conversations
with Peter Blakeway
Food writer, caterer and private chef

As much as we all believe that French food is complicated, the reality is it is really all about the flavour and the quality of the raw ingredients. This dish shows this in the best way possible – take a humble chicken and elevate it to the ranks of the extraordinary with the addition of one ingredient, in this case fresh truffle, and enjoy.

I can hear the question forming already, where am I supposed to get truffles from? Well, the answer is easier than you think. You can buy them lightly preserved from France or Italy or, and here’s the exciting bit, you can use New Zealand truffles.

In 1985 Ian Hall, a Dunedin mycologist began research on establishing the Périgord black truffle in New Zealand, with the aim of supplying out-of-season Northern Hemisphere markets. The roots of young hazel and oak trees were infected with truffle mycelia and in the spring of 1987 two truffières, or truffle plantations, were established in North Otago. By 1988, truffières were planted in nine other areas of New Zealand, from North Canterbury to Gisborne.

Five years later, the first truffles appeared in a Gisborne truffière – the first in the Southern Hemisphere. Small numbers of black truffles continued to form until April 1997, eight-and-a-half years after planting, when large numbers of immature Périgord black truffles began to form and by May mature truffles were being harvested. By mid-June 1997, the 0.5 hectare truffière had produced 6kg of Périgord black truffles with one tree producing 1.75kg. Some of the truffles were particularly large and weighed 750g or more.

Most culinary enthusiasts have heard of cultivated black truffles but few have actually tasted them. Truffles are sold by weight and grade and only fresh product is marketed. Until now, luxury lodges and a handful of restaurants have snapped up the meagre New Zealand winter yield. Butnow thatthe Gisborne truffière has been joined by truffieres in the Bay of Plenty, Kapiti, Nelson, North Canterbury and Taumarunui, there are more than 100 truffieres of all sizes coming to fruition in New Zealand.

           

Truffled poached chicken

The unbelievable aromas when this dish is cooking are to die for! If you’re selling your house, forget fresh-roasted coffee and baking bread – the smell when this is cooking will have them queuing out of the door! Truffles can be very expensive but will transform an everyday dish into something truly extraordinary. You only live once after all!

Ingredients

2 medium carrots, peeled

2 sticks celery, sliced

1 onion, skin on but topped and tailed

4 medium leeks, washed and cut into 2.5cm slices

115g unsalted butter

1 bouquet garni of parsley stalks, 8 black peppercorns and a sprig of thyme, tied in muslin

1 black truffle (about 50g)

Salt and pepper

Method

Gently scrub the truffle, peel it, reserving the trimmings, and slice very thinly. Slip truffle slices under the skin of the chicken evenly on both sides, ensuring some slices are also under the leg skin.

Place chicken into a large pan with all the vegetables – except the leeks – bouquet garni and chicken stock and bring to the boil. Turn down heat, season with salt and pepper and simmer uncovered for 60 minutes.

Remove chicken, drain and keep in a warm place. Sieve the stock and return to a clean saucepan on a high heat. As it comes to the boil, skim the ‘scum’ that forms on the surface and continue to boil for five to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, blanch leeks in a pan of rapidly boiling water for three minutes and drain. Chop truffle peelings finely and mash together in a bowl with the softened butter, salt and pepper.

Melt truffled butter in a fry pan over a medium heat, add the leeks and cook gently until hot.

Serve the broth first in soup plates, followed by the warm chicken and leeks.

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