A tremendous snack or appetizer, and an especially popular hors d’oeuvre. The sauce is simply a demi-glace mounted with crème fraîche and butter – so easy and rich that it’s almost a joke. But it’s an easy crowd pleaser, so why not? You can use lamb demi-glace if you have it on hand; I actually prefer veal demi-glace. It’s a mellower umami sensation that provides a broad base for the lambiness of the balls to become the focal point – making it with lamb demi-glace is such a concentrated lamb flavor that the balls themselves become overwhelmed and are just a delivery system for the sauce. So that’s up to you – try it both ways and see which you prefer. I generally don’t make veal stock since the bones are trickier to procure than chicken, so I buy a pre-made veal demi-glace and it works well. I don’t know the brand that I tend to use, but I generally think if someone is making veal demi-glace for retail, it’s a pretty good bet that it’s high-end, so you don’t really have to worry about getting stuck with a low quality one. Also, I don’t use any sort of panada in the lamb balls – just lamb and herbs and a bit of cheese. The result is a tighter morsel, so it helps to keep these small. They should be eaten with toothpicks, not forks and knives – think cocktail weenies with kraft bbq and grape jelly sauce, just fashioned for the Coastal Urban Hypocrite rather than the Midwestern Class Act.
Finally, a word about truffle oil. I love truffles. Don’t get me wrong. I have a memory of having a huge mound of fresh white truffles shaved at the table onto a steaming bowl of buttery fresh fetuccini somewhere in the Italian countryside. I don’t think that memory is actually mine, but whoever told it to me described it in such awe-struck detail that it left a huge impression on me and became implanted in my own memory bank so vividly that I can almost smell the truffles when I recall it. The problem with truffles is that they are so associated with delicacy and luxury, many restaurants use canned black truffles or truffle oil to excess. Under-educated and over-pretentious diners who rarely get to eat truffles (like most of us) immediately feel like they’re eating the rarest, most sophisticated, complex, delicious food in the world, simply because it tastes like truffles – no matter that whatever they’re eating without the truffle is so often humdrum or worse. Yes, truffles can elevate the overall quality and experience of a dish, but using canned truffles or truffle oil is just plain cheating. It’s a shortcut to exotic excellence. How can you make a rare and delectable experience so accessible? You’re not fooling me, crappy restaurateurs.
The other issue with truffles is that their flavor is so powerful that it tends to dominate all other flavors. That means that their overuse will result in a) masking all other flavors (back to cheating), and/or b) making all the food you serve taste the same (the steak tastes like truffles, the gnocci tastes like truffles, and the seared tuna tastes like truffles. Great.). If your thing is about truffles, let the truffles shine, use fresh truffles, and don’t be shy with them. But if your thing is something else, like seared scallops, or mac and cheese, or chicken soup, for chrissakes, put the damn truffle oil down.
That being said, I do keep white truffle oil around for occasional use, because there are some things that it just makes that much more enjoyable. I don’t cheat with it, don’t add it where it doesn’t belong, and when it does find its way into a dish, I use it sparingly. Since I mostly make these lamb balls to put out at a party, and most people are idiots, a few drops of truffle oil in the sauce just increases the ooh and ahh factor, so why the hell not?
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