I’m sure no one needs to read another article about the luxurious seduction that is chocolate. None of us want to read conflicting research studies touting the benefits or harmful effects chocolate has on one’s diet. I sure don’t. But what I do want to write about is other uses for chocolate. Specifically, chocolate used in sauces for savory dishes.
Take a deep breath and stay with me here… as defined by our “trusty” Wikipedia page, chocolate is “a raw or processed food produced from the seed of the tropical Theobroma cacao tree. Cacao has been cultivated for at least three millennia in Mexico, Central and South America. Its earliest documented use is around 1,100 BC. The majority of the Mesoamerican people made chocolate beverages, including the Aztecs, who made it into a beverage known as xocolātl, a Nahuatl word meaning ‘bitter water’. The seeds of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste, and must be fermented to develop the flavor.”
Bitter is the key word here. Using bittersweet chocolate or cocoa adds a distinct and magnificent depth of flavor to any sauce. Don’t believe me? I’ll prove it. Have you ever braised meat? Beef short ribs, leg of lamb, etc. The key to an excellent braised dish is the braising liquid. This liquid enhances the flavor and provides that luxurious and tender texture to the meat. Do you know the secret to my braising liquid? Chocolate. I add bittersweet cocoa powder to the liquid right before I place the dish into the oven to cook for hours and hours. Trust me, it adds an amazing flavor!
Still aren’t convinced? How about this: have you ever made your own BBQ sauce? I make a pretty darn good BBQ sauce from scratch, and I love its smokey burst of flavor. One day, I was in the mood for something different and decided to create another sauce, so I changed my recipe up completely and used ground coriander and lots of paprika (couldn’t help it, I’m part Hungarian!). The coriander/paprika combination was great but it was missing something to help balance the strong spices and make what I consider to be a complete sauce. Don’t ask me why I did it but I added cocoa powder to the sauce and it blew me away! So I got brave and decided the cocoa wasn’t enough, so I added a little bit of brewed coffee to the mixture and that changed the flavors completely. It was a sauce like none I’ve ever tasted before and it was exceptional.
I’ve also used chocolate in a wine reduction sauce. When serving a beautiful piece of beef for dinner, try reducing good red wine down and add cocoa powder at the end with a bit of fresh rosemary. The chocolate helps to smooth the sauce and add a touch of sweetness not found in a dry, red wine. Preparing a reduction sauce with red wine and chocolate is a phenomenal compliment to beef, and definitely makes your dish one-of-a-kind.
Since we’re combining beef with red wine, we might as well address beef stew. Most everyone has a go-to winter beef stew dish they make when the temperature drops and they desire something warm and hearty. I like to add a good amount of Cote du Rhone to the stew and then grate in two tablespoons of finely grated bittersweet chocolate. Together, these ingredients simmer into a pot of layered flavors and a richness that can’t be matched.
For me, I not only use chocolate to whip-up luxurious desserts and warm hot cocoas, I use it as a spice, an extra ingredient to a sauce or braising liquid that makes someone smile and ask, “What’s in that?” Test it out and I guarantee you it will change the way you cook forever. But I will warn you… when cooking with fresh chocolate or cocoa powder, a little bit goes a long way. Too much chocolate and your savory dish will turn too sweet, and beef shouldn’t taste like cake!
Michael Faltum’s grandmother raised him on Chicago politics, the Cubs and Bette Davis movies. If that doesn’t sum him up, we don’t know what does. To find out more about Michael, please friend him on facebook and follow him on twitter.