Welcome back to Hey Chef, a series where we ask pros around the country for tips on how to use ingredients we love. Today: the savory side of chocolate.
Chocolate is one of the world's most dynamic and complex ingredients, but this time of year most recipes focus on how to make sweet treats for your loved ones. So we asked the pros how to bring some chocolate love to savory dishes perfect for celebrations large and small.
A former Le Cirque pastry chef, Jacques Torres opened his first chocolate factory in 2000, and to date has three cookbooks, eight retail boutiques, an ice cream store, and a 40,000 square-foot chocolate factory at the Brooklyn Army Terminal in New York. Torres is also the Dean of Pastry Arts at the International Culinary Center.
You can use cocoa nibs as a spice—putting them into a spice grinder and using them in place of pepper—or as an ingredient, like a crust for salmon filets.
Cocoa butter can take a lot of heat, so spread melted cocoa butter on the salmon skin, then press the cocoa nibs on; flip it over and they'll hold, then sprinkle the flesh with salt. Heat some more cocoa butter in a pan and then slide the fish in crust-side down. Once the crust forms, flip it over and finish it in the oven. The salmon should be pretty pink at the center; don't overcook it.
You can do a sauce or not do a sauce with it; we usually remove the fat from the pan, add water, strain it, and then whisk in butter, salt, and pepper to make a very light sauce with just a subtle flavor of the salmon. Put that over a bed of leeks sautéed in cocoa butter with salt and pepper and maybe a little garlic.
Chocolate is also amazing in drinks. Add cocoa nibs to plain vodka to give it a great flavor (it takes a couple of weeks). Or make cocktails starting with a basic hot chocolate recipe, then add rum and mint, or a clear alcohol, then rim the glass with cocoa powder.
I always like to add dark chocolate to a sauce for a savory application like a game-based stew or a chili. Whisk in just enough to give you that earthiness; not enough so people would confuse it with mole. We use an extra-dark, bitter chocolate like Valrhona, so it doesn't add sweetness.
Have Chocolate for Breakfast
Jeff Mahin is a chef/partner at Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises and the creative force behind Stella Barra Pizzeria (Santa Monica, Hollywood, Chicago, DC opening winter 2014), Summer House Santa Monica (Chicago, DC opening winter 2014), and M Street Kitchen (Santa Monica). Mahin has accumulated several industry accolades including Zagat's "30 under 30," Forbes "30-under-30" list of hospitality industry up-and-comers and Restaurant Hospitality's "13 to watch in 2013."
Even though we usually think of chocolate as a dessert thing, one of my favorite ways to use it is for breakfast. Get some almond butter and buzz in a little melted dark chocolate and butter, so you're basically making an almond ganache. In the morning, smear it on toasted bread with a little jam and it's the best thing in the world; maybe not the healthiest thing, but it's amazing. Or swirl it into oatmeal.
I hate peanuts, but I love peanut butter a lot, which is weird, so I do the same thing with peanut butter, and I add a tablespoon (or three) into hot oatmeal. It changes the consistency of the oatmeal, making it tighter—I like thick oatmeal. And I pretend it's healthy because I'm eating protein with my carbohydrates.
A Chocolate-Miso Marinade
Julian Medina is renowned in New York for the ways he teases Mexican and Latin flavors at his Toloache restaurants. Richard Sandoval met a young Medina in Mexico City years ago and, impressed with his energy and vision, invited him to relocate to New York to work in one of his restaurants. Medina quickly became his protégé, and it wasn't long before Medina started building an empire of his own. His latest opening is Tacuba in Astoria, Queens.
I make a miso sauce with dark chocolate as a marinade for fish or pork. Usually miso is very salty, so miso sauce recipes often add sugar to the liquid. But I put a little stock, miso and dark chocolate in a double boiler and reduce it, then add chipotle peppers, a little rice vinegar, and some yuzu. I use it as a marinade and then finish the plate with it. The miso is very salty and the chocolate's a bit sweet, so we're adding some spice and acid to it, which is great. Salty, sweet, a little acid, a bit of savory, and a bit of spice—that's why miso and chocolate work so well together.