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Global economic crisis? What global economic crisis? Over the weekend, an auction house sold an Italian white truffle, weighing 2.37 pounds, for $200,000. According to the Associated Press, the “prized tuber went for the second year running to Hong Kong-born casino mogul Stanley Ho after an auction held simultaneously in Rome, London, Abu Dhabi and Macau, auction organizers said.”
The AP also reports that Ho last year bought “a 3.3-pounder— one of the biggest truffles unearthed in half a century — for a record $330,000.”
So aside from garnering a ridiculous amount of media attention, what else can Ho do with his massive tuber? I mean, can you actually use that much truffle in a kitchen before the thing goes bad? I decided to put the question to Enzo Fargione, the talented toque at Teatro Goldoni and one of Esquire magazine’s chefs to watch in 2008.
“I would put it on display and charge everyone $5 for to view it,” Fargione says.
The chef is only half-kidding. Unless Ho has some secret scheme to recoup the exorbitant cost of his tuber, there’s no way to turn a profit on the truffle just by using it in the kitchen, Fargione says. The Teatro toque says he’d pay about $7,000 for about a similar amount of white truffles, which have become increasingly rare in Italy.
So how would Fargione use the two-plus-pound beauty? First of all, the chef says, he’d clean it thoroughly with a toothbrush (water will add unwanted moisture) and slice the massive specimen into smaller pieces, which he would then bury in glass jars stuffed with arborio rice and place in the refrigerator. The rice will act as a natural preservative for the truffle.
Compared to simply refrigerating a truffle, the rice technique will double the fungi’s life span to perhaps two or three weeks, depending on the quality of the original tuber. But the technique also has another benefit: It will infuse the arborio rice with truffle flavor. “So when you go make a risotto, the flavors are already there,” Fargione says. You don’t need to shave as much fresh white truffle over the top.
But even employing the rice-preserving method wouldn’t give you enough time to use an entire two-pound truffle, the chef says. Within a few weeks, the fungi would go soft, so soft in fact that you wouldn’t be able to shave it. That’s when Fargione would cut the remaining truffle into thin slices and infuse them into a high-fat butter. Just like that, the chef would have a vast supply of truffle butter, which he could freeze for a long time.