“Cocoa can be used in all its forms,” says chef and Chocolatier Varun Inamdar. “It is one of the most versatile ingredients available to us; it is also highly underrated.” Of course, we rarely subject chocolate to cooking apart from desserts, but Varun believes, if used rightly, it matches perfectly with most ingredients. It is, however, an acquired skill. Lucky for you, we got some insider tricks on how to slip your favourite ingredient into any meal you please.
The easiest way to use chocolate in savoury cooking is in a sauce. “All you have to do is melt it and mix with other exciting ingredients to create sauces,” says Chef Roberto Zorzoli, Head Chef, Romano’s, JW Marriott Sahar, who recently created a Pulled Lamb Belly with 67% Madagascar Dark Chocolate, Apple and Olive relish for the hotel’s ‘A Chocolate Affair’ menu.
But if that sounds too fancy, “start by adding unsweetened cocoa powder to a BBQ sauce, or some chocolate to salad dressings like vinaigrette,” adds Living Foodz chef and owner of Palate Culinary Studio, Rakhee Vaswani.
When you first start cooking with chocolate, don’t be afraid to experiment as much as you can to understand the nuances of chocolate as an ingredient. “Try various flavour combinations, techniques, spice combinations and keep noting each aspect,” Varun Inamdar recommends.
Chocolate often adds a balance of flavour and an undertone of sweetness. For instance, a brown sauce with a hidden slab of melted chocolate automatically gets a more smooth and silken taste with a balanced sweetness and full-bodied flavour. “I have often slipped in a slab of dark chocolate in the boiler while making jus. And trust me, no one has ever complained,” says Varun. “But it is important to keep a tab on various taste parameters like bitter, sweet, acidic as well as intended colour, flavour, texture and consistency,” he adds.
The Tried and Tested
Chocolate pairs well with most ingredients but for savoury dishes, there are some no-fail ingredient combinations. Chef Roberto says, “The flavours of pumpkin, red meats such as lamb and venison as well as fresh cream cheese and tasty, seasoned ones like castelmagno, Parmigiano and pecorino go extremely well with chocolate.” You can also try working with bacon, tenderloin, chicken, shrimps, ham, pork chops, asparagus, broccoli, celeriac, sweet potatoes, yam, shallots, sweet peas, tofu, coffee and orange.
Chili and chocolate is another all-time favourite combination. They are both so distinctly different, and together they are a lethal combination, bringing out each other's intensity, flavours and unique characteristics.
Talking of spices, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg go great with chocolate, while herbs like basil, rosemary, peppermint and tea complement it well.
Art of Tempering
One of the easiest ways to temper chocolate is in a double boiler. First create a bain marie or a double boiler by resting a clean metal or glass bowl on a sauce pan that contains just an inch of water. Add chopped chocolate to the glass bowl and keep stirring with a spatula till three quarters of it has melted. Switch the flame off and keep stirring till all of it is melted. Continue stirring till chocolate reaches roughly 30°C and then it is ready to use.
“Most home chefs do not have fancy thermometers to check the temperature. So a simple check on your lip or wrist, which are the most sensitive parts of your body, will do. What you're looking for is the chocolate to be warm enough, which means it's pliable and not too thick,” says Le Cordon Bleu Chef and Owner of Palate Culinary Studio, Rakhee Vaswani,
Handle with Care
Like water and oil, moisture/liquid and chocolate just don't mix. Even a drop or two of liquid can cause chocolate to seize and form hard lumps, making it useless for dipping. Always pat wet fruits dry before dipping and always keep tools and utensils dry before pouring chocolate into them.
Seizing is also caused by overheating the chocolate. “Proper melting is done slowly at low temperatures because chocolate is extremely sensitive to rapid temperature changes,” Rakhee adds. If chocolate is cooked on a very high flame, it can split. So you need to be slow and steady to begin with.
Storing is another important aspect of handling chocolate. You must keep it away from sunlight and humidity as these factors change the characteristics of the chocolate, be it dark, milk or white.
The Chef’s Favourite
If all that chocolate talk got you really hungry, here’s another little teaser. The chefs tell us their favourite savoury dishes with cocoa.
I love seafood pan seared in cocoa butter. It renders a very aromatic finish to any seafood. The fine flavour of fresh seafood and the subtlety of cocoa butter is very interesting.
- Chef Varun Inamdar
The Mexican Mole is my favourite savoury dish with chocolate because nothing is more luscious and tastier. The tinge of chocolate in this sauce is what makes all the difference.
- Chef Rakhee Vaswani
Fresh pappardelle with slow-cooked lamb ragu, enhanced with Saothoma Noir. The distinctive bittersweet taste, which is a perfect match with lamb sauce, remains in the mouth for a wonderfully long time.
- Chef Roberto Zorzoli
Image Courtesy: Shutterstock
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