Oeufs brouillés à la truffe

For a supremely elegant brunch dish, you can’t do better than scrambled eggs with truffles. Wait! Did she say truffles? But yes, my friends. You may have heard that truffles cost as much per ounce as gold, but that turns out to be false. You may think they’re hard to find, but that’s also not true in these days of online ordering. Preserved truffles are fine in this quick and easy recipe. So go ahead — invite some guests and knock their socks off.

Oeufs brouillés à la truffe / Scrambled eggs with truffles

I’d been wanting to make scrambled eggs with truffles for a very long time, but when I went to my local farmers market recently in search of a truffle I couldn’t find one. Turns out they’re not in season. The season for the prized French black winter truffle begins only in mid-November, while the season for summer truffles ends in mid-September. But a shop in my neighborhood, Signorini Tartufi, sells the summer truffle preserved in a small jar for the remarkably affordable price of 15 euros for 25 grams. I used just one (the larger) of the jar’s two truffles, making the total cost of the dish for two about $10.

Creating the dish is child’s play. All you need is some very fresh eggs, a little cream, salt, pepper and a truffle or two. The night before you plan to cook, clean off the truffle and place it in an air-tight container with the eggs. This allows the truffle’s earthy aroma to penetrate the eggshells, creating depth of flavor.

To cook the eggs… but wait! First you need to figure out what else you’ll be serving and get it all ready ahead of time — as you’ll be making the eggs at the very last minute. For a very French brunch you could start with Champagne and parmesan apéritif chips, then serve the eggs and follow up with a green salad, cheese and a seasonal dessert — for example, in autumn, fresh figs roasted in vanilla cream. To put an American spin on things, start with Bloody Marys and serve the eggs with fresh fruit alongside. Another option, if you’re feeling ambitious, would be to start with the eggs and move on to homemade gravalax and blini. And maybe a shot of vodka to go with. Or use your imagination.

At last it’s time to make the eggs. This takes about three minutes. Slice the truffle thinly, reserve a few slices for garnish, beat the eggs with the cream, salt and pepper, and add the truffle slices. But how to cook them? The French method involves stirring the eggs into a creamy mass in a pan set over boiling water (au bain marie). But this is not strictly necessary. You can also scramble them as usual in a pan coated with melted butter.

And now for a little lore. Down in Provence, friends of mine have a country place not far from Carpentras, where a major black truffle market takes place every Friday in winter. I visited this market once, and it was quite a scene. The truffles are brought to the market by locals who find them with the help of specially trained dogs — chiens truffiers — who nose out the buried treasures but conveniently don’t eat them (as pigs tend to do, which is why they are no longer used). Various species can be trained to perform this task — beagles, spaniels, even rottweilers. One summer my friends’ neighbors got a puppy to train as a truffier, my chief memory of which is that they tied it to a tree and let it bark all night…

The main buyers at the market are professionals, for example local chefs who come to check the quality of the truffles for themselves and bargain over the price. The rate of sale varies according to — you guessed it — supply and demand. Some years are better than others in terms of quantity, while demand is consistently high. But it’s not true now, if it ever was, that truffles are worth their weight in gold. Last February, black truffles were sellling for 800 euros a kilo at the Carpentras market. That works out to 80 euros for 100 grams, or 40 euros for 50 grams. Of course, the retail price is considerably higher — at the Maison de la Truffe in Paris, fresh black truffles were selling last winter for 139.50 euros for 50 grams. Gold, meanwhile, is currently selling for about 54 euros per gram, or 2,700 euros for 50 grams. What did I tell you? Gold costs more.

Nonetheless, fresh truffles are among the world’s most expensive foods. (For an amusing take on the matter, check out this piece from 60 Minutes on CBS.) But don’t let cost considerations or the difficulty of obtaining fresh truffles stop you. As I discovered when researching this piece, preserved truffles at reasonable prices are available online all over the world. And they’re nearly as tasty as the fresh ones.

Happy cooking.

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