April 7, 2017

Food front: In truffle heaven

Quang Dang, executive chef of West Restaurant, shaves truffles over pasta at a recent truffle-themed dinner. photo: Leila Kwok for West Restaurant

Quang Dang, executive chef of West Restaurant, shaves truffles over pasta at a recent truffle-themed dinner.
photo: Leila Kwok for West Restaurant

By Joanne Sasvari

Add B.C. to the list of regions that produce the fabulously fragrant fungus

It is one of the world’s most precious foodstuffs. Revered for its distinctive earthy perfume, the truffle is beloved by gourmands who will happily pay as much as $300 for a single ounce of the fragrant fungus from France or Italy.
And soon, perhaps, British Columbia.
Not so long ago, a woman named Brooke Fochuk dropped by West Restaurant on South Granville Street.
“She showed up at the door and asked if I wanted to try some Oregon truffles,” recalls executive chef Quang Dang.
Turned out, these were the same species as the Oregon truffle, but found in the B.C. wilderness. Dang liked them so much, he even went out foraging with Fochuk and her truffle-hunting dog Dexter.
“There’s several different species that grow here, but only four of them are edible,” he says. “The market is still so boutique and there’s not enough dogs trained, so they’re hard to find.”
In the wild, truffles grow all over, nestled in the roots of oak, hazelnut and Douglas fir trees. Truffles have also been cultivated successfully in France, Italy, Australia, Oregon and, in limited amounts, on Vancouver Island and in Abbotsford.
To cultivate a truffle, the farmer must inoculate the tree roots with truffle spores, then wait seven to 10 years and hope for the best. This was the first year any Canadian truffle orchard produced enough for a commercial crop: back in December, a pair of potbellied pigs dug up the first batch of cultivated Périgord black truffles at Below the Nut Farm on Vancouver Island.
Some of those truffles ended up on the menu at a dinner West hosted recently. Dishes included truffled foie gras parfait, scallop crudo with truffle oil, hen’s egg with truffle butter, ravioli stuffed with truffle purée and truffle-crusted organic chicken.
It was truffly heaven.
“I think everyone we served was really impressed by the truffles,” Dang says. “It’s not whether they’re better than the French or the Italian, they’re just different. I think they’re quite amazing in their own right. That’s the beauty of their terroir.”
B.C. truffle season is ending now, but Australian truffles should be available soon, and then the summer truffles in September followed by white truffles (from both Italy and Oregon) in October and Périgords in November. If you get your hands on any of these beauties, Dang has some advice.
“Truffles are such a big flavour bomb. You don’t have to do too much with them. A simple omelette and truffles is perfect,” Dang says. Or just shave them over eggs, fresh pasta or mushroom risotto.
After all, he says, “You want to celebrate the truffle when you get it.”

Scallop Crudo with Shaved Radishes and White Truffle Oil
Recipe by Quang Dang, executive chef of West Restaurant. Note that the truffle oil will need to be made a day ahead; you can, of course, always use a purchased oil instead.

Truffle oil:
2 oz (60 g) white Oregon truffles
1 cup (250 mL) extra virgin olive oil
Scallop crudo:
8 large raw scallops, sliced into rounds 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick
6 red radishes, shaved into fine rounds using a mandoline
2 green onions, sliced very fine
Juice of 2 lemons
Truffle oil to taste
Maldon sea salt, to taste
Make the truffle oil: In a small pot, gently heat the olive oil to 160°F (70°C) or just hot enough that you can’t hold your finger in the oil. Using a truffle shaver or a microplane, finely shave the truffles directly into the oil. Let steep overnight.
Prepare the scallops: The next day, lay the scallop slices on a plate as if it were a pizza shell. Arrange the sliced radishes and green onions on the plate, again in pizza style. Generously sprinkle with lemon juice and truffle oil (including some of the shavings). Finish with a sprinkling of sea salt.
Serves 4

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