When you think of chocolate, do visions of deluxe sundaes, rich, fudgy brownies or lip smacking s’mores come to mind? Or what about a plate of the most chocolaty chocolate chip cookies and a mug of creamy hot cocoa for dunking?
While chocolate traditionally makes for a sweet afternoon snack or a touch of decadence after a meal, in some countries adding chocolate or cocoa to savory dishes is about as commonplace as a teaspoon of salt or a pinch of paprika. Those whose taste buds have benefitted from a dish of chicken with mole sauce know just how exciting things can be when the culinary heat is turned up in this way. With a little imagination, using chocolate or cocoa with its inherently deep, smoky flavor as an ingredient in savory dishes that may include chicken, pork, pasta, chili, as a rub on beef, and much more can transform the predictable to the piquant, with family and friends vying to know the dish on the dish!
Though a rare ingredient indeed, chefs maintain the flavor of chocolate in main dishes should be effectively mingled with more traditional seasonings and other ingredients. A typical example is Mexican mole sauce: a blend of chocolate and chilies, where the former is said to mitigate the pungency of the chilies with the chilies in turn modifying the bitter Mexican chocolate required in the dish.
In France, occasionally duck and game dishes are made with chocolate and in Italy chocolate is incorporated directly into certain pastas, into fillings for dumplings, or even combined with fried eggplant. Spain offers stuffed squid with chocolate sauce among other taste treasures. In most cases, the addition of chocolate is said to thicken whatever dish to which it is added, and turn up the volume much like Worcestershire sauce.
Try these savory chocolate recipes for a twist on the traditional.
Chocolate Chili Con Carne
3 pounds beef chuck
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus 1 teaspoon
1 teaspoon ground cumin, plus 2 teaspoons
2 tablespoons chili powder, plus 2 tablespoons
Masa harina (Mexican corn flour)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup lard
4 red onions, peeled and minced
6 cloves garlic, minced
4 jalapeño peppers, sliced thin with seeds, stems removed
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 to 3 (12-ounce) bottles beer
1 (12-ounce) can diced tomato in juices
1 quart chicken stock
3 (12-ounce) cans black beans
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into large chunks
Cut the chuck into 3/4-inch pieces, or, to save time, have your butcher do this for you. Place chuck in a large bowl. Season liberally with pepper (about 20 turns of the grinder) and salt to taste— remember half of this will come off in the pan. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of the cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of the cumin, and 2 tablespoons of the chili powder. Mix well and coat meat with the masa harina. The flour will thicken the sauce and give it a specific, Mexican taste.
Preheat a cast iron Dutch oven on the stove over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and then the coated meat, spreading it evenly so it covers the bottom of the Dutch oven in one layer. Leave it alone, without turning it, so the meat will brown and caramelize. Meanwhile, add the lard. The meat has a lot of moisture in it so a good amount of steam will come from the pan before it is caramelized. As it browns, slowly turn each piece with tongs.
Once all sides are caramelized, remove meat from the pan with a slotted spoon and place on a cookie sheet to cool, leaving juices in the Dutch oven to sauté vegetables. Add onions and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes over medium heat until they start to caramelize and soften. Add jalapeños and allow to cook for 2 more minutes until soft. Add tomato paste.
Some of the same spices used on the meat will be used in the sauce. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons of cumin, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, the oregano, and 2 heaping tablespoons of the chili powder. Add beer. Stir to incorporate everything. Add diced tomatoes and stir. Then add the reserved meat. Add chicken stock. Simmer for 1 1/2 hours until meat is wonderfully tender. Drain juice from the black beans, add beans to the chili pot, and bring up to simmer. Then add chunks of bittersweet chocolate. Stir until it melts. Serve immediately or refrigerate for two to three days.