I cribbed this dish from a chef by the name of Masa Takayama, owner of Masa in NYC and Bar Masa in NYC and Vegas. I’ve had the pleasure of observing this sushi master at work at close range on a couple of occasions, and the man is impressive in his rigorous craft and his artistic approach to omakase. Masa (the restaurant) is known to be perhaps the most expensive sushi restaurant in the US, and to justify a per-head ticket price of $500 (before tax, tip, and drink) Masa (the chef) creates a fabulous array of gorgeous bits from some of the most luxurious items currently available. To that end he flies in the majority of his fish from Japan, gets the best Wagyu beef (from Australia at the moment), has the best toro, which he tops off with the best caviar. At his first restaurant, Ginza Sushi-Ko in Beverly Hills, I had an unforgettable meal about ten years ago that included three courses of fugu, the potentially lethally poisonous blowfish (the sheer white blowfish liver was particularly memorable). In addition to sourcing exotic and pricey ingredients Masa designs his own rustic ceramic plateware and carves his own chopsticks from fresh bamboo. He has beautiful custom gingko cutting boards made to his specs in Japan and shipped to him in the US. This is a man obsessed with the details; and the efforts show.
A couple of weeks ago I hung out with him and his crew as they prepared a seventeen-course meal for twenty people. I’ve eaten his food before and seen him in action, so I wasn’t surprised or particularly in awe of this behind-the-curtain look. And not every morsel achieved the same level of excellence. However, some of the food was extraordinary — sushi all exemplary, toro tartare topped with some pretty spectacular California white sturgeon caviar, truly amazing eel, stunning sea urchin. But my favorite dish was this simple bite of tempura — crisp, hot, earthy, sweet, pungent. Clumps of fresh white corn kernels and small cubes of Australian black truffle bound ever-so-delicately with a basic batter are dropped and fried in a sizzling pool of rice bran oil in a wide brass tempura pan until tongue-scalding and crunchy.
During frying the corn’s sweetness gets a boost and the truffle bits get more intense, more exotic, earthier, and a bit meatier. A tiny dusting of black truffle salt completes an excellent snack.
I don’t have a recipe per se. I can only describe how to make it. Masa and his staff didn’t measure any of the ingredients, and when I made my own version a few days later with a couple of leftover Australian black truffles that Masa was kind enough to leave behind for me I didn’t bother either, trusting that by sight and by feel I could approximate his lovely dish. If you attempt this at home (and I hope you do!) be sure to read these instructions carefully before you buy ingredients and set up your fryer.
So, trim the kernels off of two ears of corn. Put the corn in a mixing bowl. Take two black truffles, weighing together about an ounce-and-a-half (this is a total stab in the dark, so don’t quote me) and gently cut off a thin layer from the kobbly skin with a sharp paring knife or a very sharp ceramic vegetable peeler, creating two small, smooth-ish black truffle globes. Cut the truffles into a small dice roughly equivalent to the size of corn kernels. Add the truffles to the corn and mix with your hands to combine.
Take a box of good quality store-bought tempura mix and add about a half-cup of the dry powder to the corn-truffle mix. Toss until the corn and truffle bits are lightly dusted all over with the tempura powder. Now according to package directions make liquid tempura batter. Pour enough batter, maybe a cup at most, into the corn and mix together. You want the batter to coat the corn mixture just enough to bind the kernels and truffle bits together very loosely. Now with a large spoon scoop up clumps of the corn mixture (about three tablespoons per clump) and place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, making sure that each raw fritter clump doesn’t touch its neighbors.
Heat rice bran oil (or sunflower oil or peanut oil) to a depth of about four inches in a pot (with a clip-on termometer) or a fryer to a temperature of 350ºF. Gently lift the raw fritter clumps from the paper with a spoon and slide them into the oil. Fry about six at a time (depending on the type and size of frying vessel you’ve chosen) and turn them frequently, cooking until they’re golden, about three minutes.
Remove fritters from the oil and drain on a sheet pan lined with a wire rack. Dust with truffle salt and serve immediately. I had a glass of rosé Champagnoise to wash this down. A perfect snack!
Here in Los Angeles I can get truffle salt and milder European summer truffles right now from the Beverly Hills Cheese Shoppe. Undoubtedly there are other sources as well; perhaps Surfas in Culver City would have truffle salt as well. I think you can order Australian black truffles on line, but I haven’t investigated that possibility yet.