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Everything posted by Ken

  1. I have used many different truffle slicers. The traditional slicers are pretty rudimentary. To maximize surface area and aroma a "microplane" is very good. Llikewise, using light pressure on a box grater works well. If you want slices, by far the best one I've found is the "Tartufolo" from GEFU. It's German and I found mine in a great little shop in Florence not far from the Duomo a few years ago. I've seen them online since. It is easily adjustable, cuts nice thin shavings and is easy to hold in the hand over a plate to shave truffles tableside. A Benriner from Japan works well too. Not very pretty, and awkward at the table, but if you're working behind the scenes in the kitchen you'll find it gives you perfect slices.
  2. I'm afraid that freezing doesn't do the trick, we've tried. It is an easily reproduced scientific experiment that would work every time if true. Nothing short of a little chemical help will get a few bits of fresh truffle to amplify their meager flavor into a whole bottle of fragrant oil. The worthless bits of truffle in the oil are part of the con. On a happier note, I tasted some plantation grown fresh Australian winter truffles for the first time this week. They are true "tuber melanosporum", very good, walnut sized, absolutely authentic, but a bit pricey at 1000 per pound delivered. I'm not sure they'd be so special if we can get them all year. Then again, how can you ever have too many truffles. Maybe truffle oil dishes should carry an asterisk on the menu like chemically enhanced home run records.
  3. The discussion of wine "manipulation" is completely irrelevant. There is no "manipulation" in truffle oil, it is just oil with artificial flavor added, period. Allow me to quote from the book Caviar, Truffles and Foie Gras by Katherine Alford published by Chronicle Books in 2001. This is what those I know and trust in the truffle business have long told me. Here it is in print for you disbelievers. Page 32. "The stark reality, according to Olga Urbani of the famous Umbrian family that for four generations has been the world leader in fresh and quality preserved truffle products, is that you can't use real truffles in commercial truffle oils. Fresh truffles stored for long periods of time in oil go rancid. Commercially produced truffle oils rely on simulated truffle flavors instead. The components of those flavors are patented trade secrets." As has been widely noted in previous posts to this thread, truffle oil is too often overdosed and the results taste bad. However, the savviest chefs now buy the "essence" and mix their own versions using far better oil as the base and a very subtle dose of the flavor. I don't personally endorse this, but the taste is far better than any commercial oil I've seen. The bottom line is that bottles of truffle oil should clearly list all of their ingredients on the label. They would have to state that they contain "artificial flavor" like countless other products on the shelves admit to. Flavor Scientists have made great strides in the last 20 years and can now recreate virtually any taste. Just look at the constellation of jelly bean flavors now available. As for whole truffles preserved in duck fat, they are great. Duck fat seems to improve most things.
  4. There are a number of problems with truffle oil. First of all it is fake. Unless you've made it yourself, and it takes a good amount of real fresh truffle, what you have is chemically enhanced. And it will only be good for a few days, just like the fresh truffle you've made it from. Do the math! Do you really think that the little "fingernail clipping" sized piece of "truffle" is generating all that flavor? If you look carefully, more often than not the piece of actual "truffle" they put in to sell you on the authenticity is not even tuber melanosporum or tuber magnatum pico. They use summer truffle or an even more worthless whitish truffle cousin that sells in Italy for about 20 bucks a pound. As is always the case in life, if it seems to good to be true........ Look at the history. Truffle oil has not been around since time began like truffles have. It's appearance on the world scene conveniently coincides with the succesful isolation and duplication of the keys to truffle flavor in an Italian laboratory a few decades ago. To me, butter is a far better vehicle than oil for keeping truffle flavor around all year if you keep it in the freezer. But I'm, leery of any commercial product. The "truffle product" industry has a real credibility problem. The problem with "fake" truffle oil is that it allows cheating. That simply cannot be tolerated, it's dishonest! Truffle oil should not be labelled as such any more than Nestle Quik should be called "chocolate". If you enjoy it, fine, it's a free country and apparently there's no danger in consuming it. Eat all the flavored popcorn you want. Chefs should not use the word truffle on menus as if they're using the real thing. Don't call it "truffled" if it's not the real thing. Truffle product purveyors should clearly and honestly label it. They are the ones being cleverly ambiguous, not Patterson. I stopped using any truffle oil years ago because I didn't like the taste and I'd been fortunate to eat so many great fresh truffles over the years that it just annoyed me to waste my palate on the phony stuff. Plus, integrity really counts to me, it's part of the unspoken promise and bond of trust I have with my customers. For the last few years I've bought almost all my truffles from my friend Gennaro in Italy. His family has been in the truffle business for generations and now has a very successful truffle plantation. They know more about truffles than anyone else I know and he confirmed to me that truffle oil is a fraud. Truffle oil has accustomed many to expect stronger flavors than real truffles have to offer. This is a largely American problem, we tend to like our flavors very strong. True truffles are sublime. Each one is different like a great bottle of Red Burgundy. There is something very magical about them and to enjoy anything less than the real thing is shortchanging yourself. It takes a lot of practice to get the most out of truffles and a lot of money too. That's just the way it is. At the end of the day, truffle oil demeans and cheapens the real thing and that is a shame. Truffles are a miracle of nature and their season deserves some respect. Would you settle for a lousy supermarket peach in February enhanced with a few drops of "peach oil" or would you rather wait until summer at the Farmers Market and enjoy every last drop of a dead ripe perfect peach. Nature has provided us with ample gifts, there is always something great in season. You can't beat nature but you can learn to appreciate its perfection if you are wise and patient. As for those who say "so and so" uses it so it must be good, I would point you to the story in the article about Jean-Louis throwing the bottle against the wall in the alley. Of all the great meals I've ever enjoyed anywhere, the best ever were at Jean-Louis. He was better than anyone I know cooking today and I'll trust his judgement.
  5. Sorry to get off thread. One should always be very very careful about accusing a restaurant of food poisoning, it's just too hard to prove and very unfair to the establishment. That being said, great thread, thanks to all for contributing, especially John Talbott for his many great links. I can't wait to get back to Paris later this month and will share any good finds.
  6. Although it's true that one typically associates food poisoning with the last thing that one ate before its onset, and that it was typically an earlier meal that's the real culprit, the time between consumption and onset of symptoms is typically much shorter, on the order of 6-8 hours. There's no actual "infection" in these cases---illness is the result of your consuming toxins produced by the bacteria (typically staphylococcus) before you ate it, generally because the food was kept neither sufficiently hot nor sufficiently cold (after having been inadvertently inoculated with the bacteria during preparation). The rapidity of symptom onset and the degree of discomfort are somewhat dose-related: the more toxin built up in the food the quicker and worse the symptoms. So depending on the timing of VivreManger's symptoms relative to his meal at Willi's, that meal may well have been the culprit. One of the worst bouts of food poisoning I've ever experienced was in Paris, the result of a meal in a Basque restaurant. Fortunately my husband ate different food, and was able to take care of me. ← Sorry, the occurence of symptoms within 6- 8 hours is not typical. Too much of what people believe to be true about food poisoning is simply not supported by facts. May I refer you the link below for an excellent and meticulously researched article last year (10/26/05) about restaurants and food poisoning in the San Francisco Chronicle by Janet Fletcher. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?...y&sn=010&sc=189 I'll be at Willis later this month and am quite sure it will be safe and delicious as always.
  7. Ken

    Alba v. Perigord

    Any commercial truffle product you use will inevitably be artificially "enhanced" and you can probably acheive your goal with any of them. My preference for butter would be if it was homemade and pure. Be judicious so it doesn't get too strong and clumsy, taste as you go. I'd "perfume" both the filling and the sauce. This year has been a terrific year for truffles, the fresh black ones from Norcia are still very very good although they will be disappearing soon. I served my last "all black truffle menu" for the year last night. We'll feature them in a dish or two for the next few weeks. It's the latest I've seen truffles this good in a long time. Bon Appetit
  8. I took some of my kitchen staff to visit the Sonoma Foie Gras/Artisan farm yesterday as they wanted to see for themselves what I have told them of my previous visits. It was my 5th visit to the farm since the early 1990's. Having followed this thread, I did ask some questions and will attempt to answer a few of the remaining questions in the "list" upthread that Derricks has not already handled. His excellent posts are totally accurate and in line with my observations. At SFG they do not use a lighting cycle to create a false autumn. The birds in the managed feeding program are kept indoors in raised pens with about 10 birds to 40 square feet of space. The raised pens allow for easy cleaning/removal of waste. The barns are cooled with "swamp coolers" and under constant intense ventilation to provide the birds with abundant fresh well oxygenated air. The barns are dimly lit as this keeps the birds calm. The birds are not fed any hormones or antibiotics. The only medication they receive is avian cholera immunization, shots, twice. The average weight of a harvested liver is just over 500 grams. Indeed, this is the size that I find has consistently the best texture seared. The morbidity rate is about 2%, slightly lower in cool weather. There are differences in production methods at all of the farms in discussion. The most important is whether the farm uses pens or cages. Both SFG and HV use pens with ample room for the ducks. One big advantage to this is that the ducks are able to extend and flap their wings. To a duck this is an expression of pleasure and helps alleviate stress. In the small cages they cannot do this. The other big difference is the length of managed feeding cycle. At SFG it is two weeks, at HV it is closer to a month. The Canadian farms, which use cages not pens, do a slower cycle too, I believe it is 3 weeks. If so, 3 weeks is a long time for a duck to be kept in a small cage. Animal cruelty is a lot like pornography, the definition may be difficult even for a supreme court justice, but we all know it when we see it. My definition may differ from Larry Flynt, but we're both entitled to our opinions. That being said, I cannot find any cruelty in the gavage process that I have observed many times over the last 15 years. I am familiar with lots of farming operations which practice excellent animal husbandry and SFG (the only Foie Gras operation I have observed directly) has exemplary standards. The ducks do not suffer from gavage, period. It is a quick painless process, far less problematic than many other generally accepted farming practices. Unfortunately, it is easy to portray the process as cruel. This perception of cruelty is the crux of the matter. The writer of the Bon Appetit article laid it all out pretty well but didn't have the guts to make the call that it is not cruel. I do not suffer from such indecision. I can look the ducks in the eye, satisfy myself that they are not suffering and look forward to eating their livers next week with no guilt. If I had any doubt, I would simply stop serving foie gras, but it is a fine product raised by fine people I am proud to have as friends.
  9. With a small home type machine it is probably fine to turn it off and on, conservation is a virtue. However there are good reasons that manufacturers recommend commercial machines be left on 24/7/365. The expansion and contraction inherent in the heating/cooling cycle can cause the fittings in the machine to become loose over time and lead to expensive service calls. Also, if the steam jet is not cleaned properly, milk residue can be drawn into the tank while cooling where it will scorch and inevitably sour, ruining every cup of foam therafter. Besides, there is not much conservation to worry about when you're pulling many dozens of shots a day and it is good to have it always ready.
  10. There's nothing fu-fu about sous vide unless you make it so. It is one of the most exciting new techniques I've seen in some 30 years of cooking and it is here to stay. Last week I updated an old favorite, "Salmon with Leek and Truffle" using sous vide. I made slits in the fish, inserted slices of fresh black truffle, added a dollop of duck confit fat, salt and sealed it in a pouch. I cooked it at 50 degrees centigrade in a bath for 20 minutes. Both the perfect texture of the fish and intense truffle flavor would have been impossible without sous vide. There's no going back.
  11. The good news is that you probably didn't get sick from Willi's. The overwhelming majority of food poisoning cases are infections that take 24 to 72 hours to develop before you feel the syptoms. What you remember is of course the last thing you ate, but it's rarely the culprit. Great thread, I'm looking forward to Paris in March too.
  12. A number of years ago I remember Food Arts Magazine had an excellent piece with precise directions for pommes souffle. I can't seem to find it. Does anyone have a copy?
  13. Ken


    Sounds delicious, but did they claim that the beef was from Four Story Hill Farm? The milk-fed Poularde certainly was, but Sylvia Pryzant does not raise beef or veal.
  14. Nick and Jen Demarest are going to do a soft opening of Harvest Moon Cafe tomorrow night on the Southwest end of the square in the old Sonoma Saveurs spot.
  15. Ken

    Napa's Muddy Mess

    A friend of mine makes his wine at Bell and they stayed dry despite the water surrounding them. He was worried for sure, but there was no impact on the wine.
  16. Ken

    freezing foie?

    I assume that it's fresh raw foie gras and the vacuum seal is still unbroken. If it has already been prepared, mi-cuit etc then there's much less of an issue. Even if it's been previously frozen, it can be refrozen, although it will degrade somewhat. Foie does not suffer the refreezing problems (ammonia) that you encounter with seafood. Four days after purchase is nearing the edge of freshness as it was at least a few days old before that. I would use what you want ASAP and freeze the rest. Daniel is absolutely correct, frozen foie gras does not sear as well, period. It will still make a fine terrine. Color and flavor are not compromised much provided it's still in good shape when frozen, vacuum sealed and not kept more than a few months. I would stress that it's much better to freeze it vacuum packed if possible.
  17. Might I reccomend Johns Locker Stock from Rogue brewery as a beverage choice. It has an uncanny resemeblance to Matsutake.
  18. Tried a very tasty interesting beer from Rogue this week. "Johns Locker Stock" has a bright wheat beer flavor with a little toast and it tastes amazingly of Matsutake mushrooms.
  19. The Sonoma Saveurs space will reopen as The Harvest Moon Cafe in Mid January, they're aiming for the 13th. The new Chef/owner is Nick Demarest who has been Chef de Cuisine at Eccolo in Berkeley for the past two years. He was at Chez Panisse previously. As you can imagine coming from those places, it's going to be California mediterranean style food with an emphasis on great local producers. Nick is a terrific chef and Harvest Moon should help raise the bar in Sonoma.
  20. BryanZ makes another excellent point regarding truth in menus. Too many chefs are misleading their patrons into thinking they're getting real Kobe when they're not. If you're serving American Wagyu "Kobe style" beef, which is a fine product in itself, your menu should say so. Sadly, truth in menus appears to be in decline these days.
  21. Opening the market will be good for all. American farmers will regain access to an important market and chefs will be able to buy real "Kobe". The ban has certainly not hurt domestic Wagyu producers as demand for this fine product has accelerated dramatically and they command a super premium price for their beef. American Wagyu "Kobe style" beef may be the best beef available in America right now. It's marbling surpasses even the best prime giving it fabulous beefy flavor and tenderness if that's what you're looking for. Australian Wagyu is also very good. However, neither is a match for real "Kobe" or the other equally exquisite but lesser known "grand crus" of Japanese beef. The marbling in their highest grades is simply unbelievable, there is more fat than meat, it's the "toro" of beef. For that reason, IMO, it is really not the best choice to grill as a big steak. It lends itself to more stylish preparations often in thin slices, raw or quickly seared. It will be very very expensive but good to have available again.
  22. Interesting to see the big difference in weight. That's why it's so important to weigh ingredients when baking. I use Diamond kosher for everyday cooking. I switched from plain old Mortons about 12 years ago because all of my young cooks were so used to working with it. It took me a while to adjust and that highlights an important point. So much of "salting" is done by feel that it's important to use one you're comfortable with consistently. There are many good affordable "everyday" salts. Regardless of the one you use, if you salt wisely, your food will be delicious. There is a time and place for fancy salts. Fleur de sel or Maldon salt is perfect sprinkled on sliced tomatoes. We sprinkle our unsalted table butter with a little fleur de sel before serving, the sweet salty contrast and crunch is very satisfying. I also get a smoked sea salt from The Organic Smokehouse in England. It has a very subtle smoke flavor with a good crunchy flake. It's terrific sprinkled on sliced roast meats. I like to sneak a little in when cooking dried beans for vegetarian dishes as it adds a smoky "bacon like" note they usually miss out on.
  23. Ken

    Alba v. Perigord

    My knowledge of truffles comes from almost 30 years of experience cooking with them. In season, I can easily go through 4 or 5 pounds a week. Over the years, with lots of trial and my share of errors, I've learned how to get more and more satisfaction from truffles by being a purist and accepting that they are both powerful and delicate at the same time. Nicolai makes an excellent point. Those who really know truffles appreciate each one differently like bottles of fine wine. Open three bottles of fine mature wine and each may shine, but in it's own way. Some truffles are earthier, some more perfumey, many a well balanced combination, sometimes there's an almost "smokey roofing tar" note and there is inevitably the occasional total loser. In addition to learning from endless practice in the kitchen, I know lots of people in the truffle business, both here in the States and in France and Italy. They are passionate, fascinating people with many generations in truffles who have generously shared their stories, advice and knowledge with me since the beginning. I still remember the first truffles I ever bought fresh as if it were last week. The widespread of availability of commercial truffle oil happens to coincide with the succesful simulation of truffle flavor in the lab. Home made truffle oil has indeed been around for a long time as a good way to get some life out of little scraps. Personally I find that butter does a better job. At the end of every week during truffle season in my kitchen, we grind up the leftover bits in the food processor with butter, roll it in parchment and freeze it. White truffles do fine with strongly flavored olive oil, it fits their flavor profile well. Black truffles, and to me that's only true tuber melanosporum, do better with a more neutral flavored oil although I still prefer butter. Real "make it yourself without cheating" truffle butter and oil is delicious but very subtle, never stronger than the truffle it comes from. The oil in particular doens't have much shelf life. Not enough to be commercially viable and therein lies a problem. I've frozen butter perfectly sealed for a year and it still tastes pretty good, but oil is good at best for a few weeks before it loses so much flavor as to be meaningless. All of my friends in truffledom scoff at commercial truffle oil because they consider it a sham. They're of course totally spoiled with an endless supply of the real thing. They know that you can't beat real truffles. Do the math, you can't capture 1/2 pound of truffle flavor in an ounce of oil for 25 bucks unless you get a little help. The flavor/aroma of black truffles is less pungent, sharp and vegetale. It's a more complex "sweet earthy"taste. It's ultimately more versatile in the kitchen too. I used to insist that black truffles were the best, my french kitchen roots I guess. But I've learned to appreciate white truffles just as much in their own right. They're both potentially great, just different like Barolo and Burgundy.
  24. Ken

    Alba v. Perigord

    Salt is used as a seasoning and to dry and preserve foods. It enhances our ability to taste but does not extract aromas from other foods. There are many kinds of seasoned salt, wet and dry, but they are just blends of seasonings that include lots of salt. As has been correctly noted in this thread earlier on, Summer truffles, tuber aestivum, have little taste resemblance to tuber melanosporum or tuber magnatum pico and are regarded by those who collect them as close to worthless. When dried they have a faint porcini like aroma and are incapable of giving a salt blend the truffle aroma without considerable assistance from a chemist. It is also unfortunate that they are referred to as black truffles which is misleading at best. If one has noble intentions, they should always be called what they are, summer truffles. The single best vehicle for truffle flavor IMO is egg yolk. Fats; butter, cream and neutral oils are a close second.
  25. Ken

    Alba v. Perigord

    Sorry, You're dreaming. They do not extract the flavoring from real truffles, it's formulated in a lab. Ask a truffle hunter in France or Italy and they'll tell you the truth.
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