Adding chocolate to a dish adds a rich depth of flavor and a great contrast of sweet and savory. It’s just cooks in the U.S. are a bit behind the times, at least 2,000 years behind the Aztecs and the Mayans who sometimes mixed their chocolate with more than 100 spices, plus nuts and seeds! Did you know there’s cocoa powder in pumpernickel bread, and we’ve been eating it for years!
Using chocolate in a savory dish helps assure the recipe won’t be sweet tasting. Add Cayenne or chile peppers for heat and chipotle, paprika and cumin for smokiness. Use cinnamon to bring out warmth and earthiness. It is strong, don’t overdo it.
When preparing a savory chocolate sauce, marinade or dry rub, you can either use a good quality cocoa powder or a chocolate bar (preferably unsweetened or bittersweet). Naturally, a rub calls for the dry cocoa.
Meat dishes work very well with chocolate as part of its savory conditioning. Ideal is lamb, chicken, pork and beef, of these short ribs, flank steak, pork loin and wild game lend themselves especially well. So do vegetarian dishes such as chili, stews, salad dressings, BBQ, pastas and casseroles.
Using chocolate in your savory cooking will do three things for you:
- Balances acidity, cuts greasiness of flavor
- Thicken or build texture in a sauce
- Add a shine and depth of color
Look to small amounts of chocolate flavoring to balance other spices for a mild, sought-after tang. Fill an empty spice bottle with dry, unsweetened cocoa and place it in your spice rack right along with the cinnamon, nutmeg, marjoram and the rest. Then experiment. Add it to your list of items that you use to add a bit of acidity to a recipe. Next time consider lemon juice, vinegar or a touch of chocolate!