© by John Juergens
As I have mentioned many times, one of the great pleasures in life is to find those combinations of food and wine that produce new and wonderful taste experiences. The benchmark pairing I use to demonstrate this is dark chocolate with red port.
I want to report on a brunch I recently prepared for a friend's birthday that included several wine and food combinations that turned the meal into a fantasy brunch of flavors and textures.
Although it might sound very ordinary, the main dish of the meal was scrambled eggs. But these were no ordinary eggs: They were laced with French black truffle mushrooms. This is a classic dish for truffle lovers because the eggs provide a great matrix in which to transport the truffles, and the eggs and truffles perform their own pas de deux of flavor synergism. At the end of the article I will give you the very simple recipe for this Platonic dish.
The side dishes, if you can call them that, were a selection of three types of smoked salmon, which provided a nice counterpoint to the delicacy of the eggs, and a rich potato dish called Hasselback potatoes. I included slices of the fish that were smoked just with Alderbrook wood, smoked and dressed with garlic and black pepper, and smoked plus a mixture of Cajun spices. For the potatoes I used Yukon Golds, which I sliced in half vertically and then thinly scored. I brushed them with olive oil and then rolled them in a mixture of spices, with paprika being the dominate spice. They were then oven baked.
Now for the wine. We started the meal with Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label Non-Vintage French Champagne, which is my all time favorite sparkling wine. To get the gastric juices flowing but not to dull the appetite, I served a small round of Brie cheese and a wedge of Jarlsberg Norwegian, which is a very creamy, rich type of Swiss. Both cheeses took to the Champagne like rednecks to a yard sale and created a gentle rush of wonderful flavors.
We carried the remaining Champagne to the table to see how it would match up with the main course. In addition, I pulled out a very modest 1998 Michel Picard French Pinot Noir and a 2000 Alexander Valley Chardonnay from California to see which of these wines could best bridge the expanse between the delicate eggs and truffles and the smoky, spicy fish.
To cut to the chase, it was all divine. I had had truffles only once before, about fifteen years ago, in the form of a rich cream based soup, but I could not recall exactly what they tasted like. I was completely surprised at the delicate flavor of the truffles after experiencing the incredibly powerful and pungent aroma as I sliced them. Adding to my surprise was a definite touch of an anise-type flavor when I tasted a small sliver of the mushroom by itself.
When combined and cooked with the eggs, a wonderful third flavor emerged that I just can't find the words to describe. I guess I'm just going to have to keep at it until I can figure it out.
Of the three wines, I think the Pinot Noir did the best job of matching up with all the flavors on the plate, but in retrospect, I probably should have selected something with a bit more depth and complexity. The Champagne was a little overpowering for the eggs, and pulled out a slightly metallic taste from the salmon. The Chardonnay also did well with both fish and eggs, but I am partial to the spicy cherry flavors that come with the Pinot.
As if the meal wasn't decadent enough, we finished off the brunch with chocolate cheesecake and Rancho Zabaco red port made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, followed by Community Coffee with chickory. The entire brunch took about five hours and nearly overlapped with supper time. I suppose I should have called it "sunch" or "lupper", but those terms don't have quiet the right ring to them.
I researched this meal for about a month and communicated with a lot of people about the best way to approach the eggs and truffles. I found numerous recipes on the internet, but most of those were fairly complex and I was concerned about losing the truffles in the shuffle of flavors. In the end, I went with my instincts to just keep it simple. My thanks goes out especially to John Currence, master chef of City Grocery restaurant in Oxford, Mississippi, who gave me some tips on how to get the most out of the truffles, and who was the source of the fresh black golden nugget I used in the recipe.
I used a single truffle weighing about an ounce. Although this doesn't sound like much, it was plenty to serve five people. Using a single edge razor blade, I cut the mushroom in paper-thin slices and then made julienne strips from these slices. I added the mushroom pieces to ten large eggs lightly beaten and placed this in the refrigerator for about three hours. This allowed some of the mushroom flavors to permeate the eggs.
When I was ready to cook the eggs, I mixed in about three-fourths cup of half-and-half and cook them just as you would make any ordinary scrambled eggs. I let my guests season them with salt and pepper as desired after their first au naturel taste. However, I refused to put a bottle of ketchup or Tabasco sauce on the table. I served the salmon at room temperature and warmed the plates prior to serving to keep the eggs warm.
This was an extraordinarily satisfying meal and a sensory tour de force, but without the heaviness that can produce a stuffed feeling as after a Thanksgiving meal. I highly recommend the truffles and eggs dish if you are willing to go truffle hunting. This will be your greatest challenge. There are similar fungi from Italy, China, and elsewhere that are much more readily available and which cost much less than the French variety, but I have not yet tried them for comparison. When I do, I will let you know how it works out.
April 9, 2002
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