Truffles are expensive, but if used effectively that money can go a long way. A whole egg-size black truffle, costing sixty to a hundred dollars, will provide six to eight people with a special-occasion feast they will never forget. And anyway, as Colette says in Portraits et paysage, “If you love her, pay her ransom regally, or leave her alone.”
Truffles are best when fresh, but unlike anything else (except pastry, meat and fish essences, and ice cream) the black ones do very well when frozen. Freeze them while they are at their peak of freshness, wrapping each truffle separately in two layers of odorless plastic wrap, then in aluminum foil, and putting them in a sealed, dated container in the freezer
It is important to remember that they work well frozen only if you put them in whatever they are flavoring while still frozen and leave them there for an hour or two. Only in this way will frozen truffles retain their crisp texture and flavor, as well as infusing whatever they are in. Truffles preserved in Madeira make superb truffle-flavored liquid, but soft truffles and canned truffles (unless of the premium quality of the Pebeyre family in Cahors) are a total waste of money.
Put the stock in the bottom of a steamer that has a tight-fitting top. Then put the thyme in the top part of the steamer. Cut the potatoes in half and put them on top of the thyme, and the truffles on top of the potatoes. Season.
Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the truffles and potatoes and keep warm. Whisk the butter into the stock, taste for seasoning, and pour over the truffles.
When Mark Franz left Stars in San Francisco to open his own restaurant, Farallon, I threw a party for him and 25 guests in our private dining room. Each person had a truffle two inches in diameter, and I added a little Madeira to the steaming liquid.
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