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The Caterer

Alan Murchison, chef

15 February 2007 by
Alan Murchison, chef

Scottish chef Alan Murchison just bought 10kg of Périgord truffles, costing nearly £8,000, for his Berkshire restaurant L'Ortolan and his new eaterie in Ludlow. Emily Manson speaks to him about what he does with all that fungus

How do you know when the time is right to buy?

You have to find suppliers you can trust, as inferior truffles, like the Chinese variety, can be mixed with Périgords if you don't source them carefully. Price is not a guarantee of quality you have to assess the truffle's marbling, aroma and firmness. If there's any dampness, then they're starting to turn or ferment and are past their best. They've only got a short season and the weather can affect the supply greatly, so we get as many as possible of the good ones when we can.

Why and how do you preserve them?

We clean them individually with a toothbrush, grade them and cook them in a natural meat stock made from beef shin, fowl, pigs' trotters, port and dry Madeira. Then we keep them individually - you can freeze them or put them in the fridge - in the bouillon for the rest of the year.

Why are Périgord truffles so special?

They are one of the last few things that haven't been ruined, manipulated or tinkered with by farming. It's still a 100% wild product, hand-picked by country-folk with a dog - and they just blow your mind.

What do you use truffles for?

We use the bouillon to flavour stocks and infuse dressings, as the oils you can buy are never the same: they've got a synthetic flavour and just aren't comparable. We use the truffles in lots of dishes, including roast squab pigeon with choucroute and truffle and Madeira jus langoustine cannelloni with a truffle cream sauce and a poached confit of chicken with a truffle cream.

What goes best with truffles?

You can't beat langoustine or scallops, the earthiness of the truffle just goes so well with their slight sweetness.

What are your plans for your new property in Ludlow, which is on the Hibiscus site?

The excitement is outweighing the fear at the moment, as we open in 11 weeks. We want to put in a Champagne bar and small private dining room. We'll aim to develop our own style but build on Claude's [Bosi] achievements. It'll be an interesting learning curve, and attract a different crowd to L'Ortolan, where there's a lot of corporate and private dining. People come to Ludlow for leisure. It' a different beast altogether.

Do you think Ludlow is a fading star?

Every business and chef has a timescale and an expiry date. Some people have moved away, but it's still very much a thriving community. You still can't get a parking place or a restaurant reservation, so although I understand why Claude wanted to go to London and why Shaun Hill closed the Merchant House, it's still a vibrant place. You only have to look at the market, busy shops, hotels and other restaurants to see that.

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