There’s a pork craze happening these days, and it seems that every bakery case in Chicago is featuring homemade chocolate-covered bacon. Tempting indeed. Sweet, smoky, savory — a three-toned flavor combination that must have been created by the cacao gods themselves.
But let’s get beyond the chocolate-bacon fix. Chocolate is a secret ingredient in all sorts of savory dishes, from sauces and stews to rubs and rotisseries. Here is a quick primer to get you acquainted with cooking with chocolate in savory dishes, followed by three delicious recipes you can try out at home. Who says that you have to finish your dinner to earn that chocolate? Just put it in your dinner.
When cooking with chocolate, there are two basic options: unsweetened chocolate or unsweetened cocoa powder. Use chocolate (easiest bought in bar form) when you are going to melt the chocolate into a liquid base, such as a sauce or stew. Cocoa powder works better for dry applications such as spice rubs.
Chocolate has an inherently sweet, smoky, and savory flavor profile — but in unsweetened form, it contains a strong bitterness which must be balanced with sweet or fruity ingredients in a recipe. Due to its sweet and smoky qualities, chocolate cooks well with similar spices and ingredients, such as cumin, chili peppers, and citrus. If there are no naturally sweet ingredients in your savory chocolate recipe, a bit of added sugar can help to round out the bitterness.
Chocolate actually compliments most proteins — it just takes a bit of forethought to get the combination right. As stated before, chocolate does well when cooked into sweet, smoky, almost barbeque-like flavors, so consider which meats and proteins meld well with that. Jerk-rubbed chicken stewed in chocolate sauce, ribs rubbed with chili-cocoa spices, or tofu burgers topped with orange-chocolate barbeque sauce are all examples that reflect the sweet, smoky, and savory combinations that chocolate can help to create.
A little chocolate in a recipe goes a long way. Remember, you aren’t making a dessert here, so don’t melt down an entire chocolate bar for a single recipe. Use chocolate as you would any other spice — as an enhancement that accentuates other flavors in a recipe and creates a smooth, balanced result.