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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

White Truffle Dinner 2006: Course 5

This is the sixth in a series of posts directed to the Fourth Annual White Truffle Dinner that Rhonda and I recently held at my home.   For more on the dinner, please see these posts:   Introduction | Course 1 | Course 2 | Course 3 | Course 4 | Course 5 | Course 6 | Course 7 | Course 8 | Conclusion

The fifth course for this year's White Truffle Dinner was White Truffle Risotto with Fresh Truffle Shavings & Browned Butter.   This is a dish that I lifted, directly and shamelessly, from Thomas Keller of The French Laundry.   The first time that I tasted this at the restaurant was one of those rare moments in my dining history that could accurately be called revelatory.   I had enjoyed white truffles a few times before, but never in a dish that so perfectly demonstrated what a spectacular wonder they really are.   The surface of the plate was covered with a small mound of creamy risotto, which had been lent an air of luxury by copious amounts of butter, whipped cream, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and white truffle oil.   Our server then shaved fresh white truffles on top tableside, their intoxicating aroma seemingly deepened and transported away from the plates by the steam rising from the rice below.   A few spoons of browned butter completed the presentation, its nutty complexity melding brilliantly with the earthiness of the truffles while also amplifying the nuttiness of the cheese.   The vivid memory of that fantastic experience was in the forefront of my mind when I started planning the first White Truffle Dinner in 2003, and I simply knew that the dish would have to have a starring role on my menu.   To this day, the risotto remains my favorite way to enjoy a fresh white truffle, which probably explains why it's the only dish to have earned a spot on all four of our truffle menus.

The recipe for the risotto is set forth in The French Laundry Cookbook, although Keller curiously omitted the browned butter -- a component that elevates the dish to an entirely different plane.   The risotto is not, as a general matter, all that difficult to make;   it's a relatively standard preparation, followed by the somewhat unusual steps of quickly stirring in large amounts of butter and whipped cream immediately before service.   Yet, these latter steps can present a real challenge in the context of a multi-course dinner party for 10+ people, particularly when one is also (a) striving to get the right balance of white truffle oil and salt in the risotto, (b) preparing a large volume of browned butter, (c) cleaning and preparing the fresh truffles for shaving over each plate, and (d) trying to get the plates to the table while the risotto is still warm.   Indeed, Rhonda and I have found it virtually impossible for two people to execute all of the necessary steps with perfect synchronicity, and the result is often that the dish suffers in one way or another.   After three years' worth of struggling, we decided to try something different this time by skipping the step of stirring butter and whipped cream into the risotto.   Although the finished dish may not have been quite as opulent (or heavy), it was still delicious -- and the stress that it saved us was invaluable.   Indeed, we were easily able to complete all of the other steps -- i.e., finishing and seasoning the risotto, preparing the browned butter, and preparing/shaving the fresh truffles -- without incident, and the dish reached the table with all of its components at the right consistency and temperature.

Finally, to give you a sense of how the menu has evolved over time (or, in this case, has not evolved over time), here's a summary of the Course 5 selections that we have served since the inaugural White Truffle Dinner in 2003:


Blogger K and S said...

this dish sounds amazing!

December 26, 2006 3:54 PM  
Blogger NS said...

Kat: Thanks!

January 04, 2007 9:56 AM  

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