When Doug announced to me that Treasure Island, a local high-end grocery store, was selling a limited number of black truffles —the diamonds of the culinary world—I couldn’t get the idea of buying one out of my head.
Truffles are tuber-like fungi (think mushroom) that grow underground on the roots of particular oak trees in Italy, France, Spain, and in some other areas of Europe. Because truffles can’t be seen, specially trained truffle dogs and pigs hunt them out for farmers during the truffle’s very short growing season, which lasts from early December through March, although the truffles are at their peak in January. While the truffle may look like an ugly duckling, it’s prized for its wonderfully earthy flavor and heady aroma. Its aroma is so strong that it can penetrate eggshells to perfume the egg itself.
Because of their rarity and short growing season, truffles are notoriously expensive, with black truffles from the Perigord area of France and white truffles from Italy being the most costly. Those costs are compounded when the truffles travel overseas, so they go from about $30 an ounce to $300 an ounce, depending on where the truffle comes from. If that doesn’t explain to you how amazingly precious these babies are, check out this new story from last week in which a French farmer murdered a man he thought was truffle rustling on his property. If you don’t want to throw down a ton of money on one little fungus, you can buy truffle oil at many major supermarkets, specialty stores, and online—and a little oil goes a long way when it comes to giving dishes that truffle flavor.
So after a few days of debating, I called Treasure Island to see if they still had any black truffles left in stock. “We only have one left,” the woman at the store told me, and I immediately asked her to put my name on it. Once I got to the store, it took five employees to find it, but we finally located it in the deli—a weird spot, but I guess Treasure Island wants to keep something that valuable locked in a case. I paid $57 for a one-ounce truffle, which I believe came from France because of the time of year. The lady at the checkout counter did a double take when she saw the price on the tiny deli container. “I thought it was typo until I saw what it was!” she exclaimed.
And so, armed with my very own black truffle, I set off to make some seriously delicious food for my boyfriend and his roommates. With such an aromatic, delicate ingredient, simplicity is key, and a little goes a long way. There’s no reason to use your entire truffle in one sitting, and I only used a fraction of mine for our Saturday night meal.
Eggs en Cocotte—the fancy French name for eggs baked in ramekins—is one of the more elegant ways to prepare an egg, but it’s also one of the most simple: Gently crack an egg into each ramekin, pour a little cream over top and sprinkle with salt, pepper and black truffle slivers, or whatever else strikes your fancy—roasted garlic, sautéed vegetables, Parmesan cheese, and tomato sauce are all wonderful choices—then bake the ramekin in a water bath in the oven for 7 to 10 minutes until the white is opaque but the yolk is still runny. Top your eggs with some fresh parsley for garnish, and serve immediately.
In just those few short minutes, the truffle’s subtle earthy flavor infuses the egg, making it one of the most deliciously simple dishes you’ll ever eat. Serve eggs en cocotte with crusty French bread for soaking up the runny yolk.
I made a fancy version of breakfast for dinner, where I served a cheese course, eggs en cocotte with black truffle, and homemade gnocchi with a creamy mushroom sauce as our potato, but you could serve this dish with a simple salad for a nice light supper. Whatever you serve it with, it’s sure to be one of the memorable egg meals you’ve ever had.
Egg En Cocotte with Black Truffles
Pour the cream over the egg white instead of yolk for a prettier presentation. You can assemble the ramekins a few hours ahead of time and hold them in the fridge, covered, but let them come to room temperature about an hour before baking. Instead of black truffle, try sprinkling sautéed veggies, baked potatoes, or cheese in the ramekin before you add the egg. Click here to download a copy of this recipe.
For each serving:
1 large egg
1 Tbs. cream
Freshly ground black pepper
Black truffle slivers for garnish
Very hot water, for water bath
Equipment: Small ramekins
Prepare eggs. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Butter ramekin. Crack egg into ramekin, and pour cream over egg. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle egg with a few slivers of black truffle. Place ramekin in a baking dish, and pour hot water into the baking dish until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekin. Put the baking dish in the middle of oven.
Bake the eggs for 7-10 minutes, or until the white is opaque and the yolk is still runny. Remove pan from oven and then remove ramekins. Serve immediately.
If you need to wait before serving them, you can remove the eggs from the oven while they’re still underdone and leave them in the water bath on the stovetop for about 10 to 15 minutes.