So … Truffles.
They are totally 1980’s, am I right?
I think I would feel more comfortable, inconspicuous and socially responsible strutting down the street wearing nothing but a cone bra circa 1983 and a freshly cut ivory tusk strapped to my forehead than casually buying an … actual …. truffle.
(However, if I ever do have a spare $700 or so that I want to devote to the fruiting bodies of underground mushrooms, there seems to be a bustling market for them on Amazon.com).
Truffles are the diamond tiaras of the food world. Only certain people can afford them, and they probably all know each other. Who, even among the tippy-top of the highest ranks of the upwardly mobile, would feel like – “you know what? I’m going to just throw $600-$700 worth of fungus in this poultry dish, because that’s how I roll.”
So, while perusing one of my Alice Waters cookbooks for inspiration this week, I felt my blood pressure rev its engines and prepare to lift off and send my body rocketing into outer space. Usually, when I page through her glossy books, I’m inspired by how much she manages to do, the imagination, the innovation, the happy surprises that go into every sprig of chervil she scatters in her wake. Not this time.
I finally understood why she has so many vociferous detractors. (A few years ago, Anthony Bourdain launched a refreshingly honest dialogue about the privilege and sanctimony inherent in the local, organic food at all costs movement: “We’re all in the middle of a recession, like we’re all going to start buying expensive organic food and running to the green market. There’s something very Khmer Rouge about Alice Waters that has become unrealistic …. [I] don’t know if it’s time to send out special squads to close all the McDonald’s.”)
What got my goat in her book? A casual chicken breast recipe that calls for truffles, sans any suggestions for substitutions. (To be fair, if you live in a forest in California or France with a pack of truffle dogs at the ready, I suppose truffles could arguably be locally, frugally sourced, but how many people does that apply to?)
After I stopped muttering under my breath while Penny whined and howled in sympathy, I got really hungry. I wanted truffles too!
Now if truffles are the tiaras of the food world, truffle oil and truffle butter must surely be the cubic zirconium. More flash than cash, but (almost) as much fun. Because they are created for slightly silly culinary flaneurs like myself, they’re totally overpriced, but you know what? They’re worth it. (Expect to pay $10 for a small bottle of oil or a 4 oz package of butter, but a little goes a long way).
Speaking of overpriced, but wonderfully decadent edible accoutrements … I also got a hankering for saffron this weekend. I figured, why not? If I’m going to run out like a fool to Whole Foods and buy truffle butter, why not bust into my little stash of saffron, usually saved for twice-a-year Paella?
This week, I went whole hog and made Truffled Chicken Breasts and a Simple Saffron Rice. Click on for recipes!
Simple Saffron Rice
Makes 6 servings
- 2 TBSP boiling water
- 1 hearty pinch saffron
- 3 TBSP olive or refined nut oil (refined nut oils can be used at higher temperatures)
- ½ medium yellow onion, diced fine
- 2 cups rice (traditionally, saffron rice uses basmati, but I only had plain ol’ white on hand, and it was fine)
- 3 ½ cups broth (vegetable or chicken)
- Hearty pinch salt, or to taste
- Soak saffron threads in 2 TBSP boiling water for about 10 minutes.
- Heat oil in medium-sized sauce pan over medium-high heat. Fry onions until translucent over medium heat, about 5 minutes. Add rice, coat in fat. Add saffron and the soaking water, broth, salt and bring to boil. Reduce to simmer, cover and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the moisture is absorbed.
Nutritional Breakdown for Saffron Rice: About 275 calories and 8 grams of fat.
Cost Breakdown for Saffron Rice: All in, this was still only about $2.00 a serving, even if you buy the saffron at Whole Foods.
Verdict / In the Future: Worth every pinch.
Truffled Chicken Breasts
Makes 6 servings
- 2 TBSP truffle butter
- 6 skinless chicken breasts (I use kosher chicken breasts, because they come pre-brined, ensuring moistness)
- 2 TBSP olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Make three small incisions in each chicken breast and stuff in about 1 tsp truffle butter between the three incisions, keeping a good lump reserved for later use after stuffing all six. Sprinkle each breast with salt and pepper.
- Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil,
- Heat oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers in a large skillet. Add breasts (fry two at a time, so they can get a good golden brown color; too many breasts in the pan will prevent that), fry on both sides for a few minutes, until golden brown.
- Set aside par-cooked breasts on cookie sheet. Fry the rest of the breasts and repeat.
- Pop the six breasts into the oven and cook for about 12 minutes, or until cooked through. Top with remaining truffle butter, letting it melt over each piece of chicken.
Optional: Quick Pan Sauce:
- While the chicken cooks, fry a few TBSP of minced onions or shallots in the remaining pan fat. Deglaze with a shot of vodka or wine. Add 1 TBSP of flour, salt and pepper to taste, and about ½ cup of broth, and whisk until smooth.
- Serve with saffron rice.
Nutritional Breakdown for Truffled Chicken Breasts: About 300 calories and 11.5 grams of fat per serving.
Cost Breakdown for Truffled Chicken Breasts: All in all, this was about $3.75 a serving with organic kosher chicken breasts from chickens slaughtered after being cuddled to sleep by monks and listening to Mozart every day at a sunny farm in Pennsylvania, according to the label.
Verdict / In the Future: Delish. It’s amazing what a few pads of truffled butter can do to elevate the ho-hum chicken breast.