We usually think of chocolate as an exclusively sweet ingredient, but if you’ve ever tasted a nibble of unsweetened baking chocolate, you know that pure chocolate actually has a bitter, somewhat fruity flavor. It’s only when cacao beans are processed with milk and lots of sugar that it turns into the tasty chocolate truffles and confections we know and love.
A skillful use of chocolate in savory cooking can add a whole new tool to your gourmet toolbox and greatly increase your pleasure both in cooking and eating.
Related reading: Our guide to the best chocolate fountains.
Savory Cooking with Chocolate Tip #1: Subtlety is Key
When cooking with chocolate in savory dishes, a light touch is important. Even though you won’t be using sweetened chocolate and so are at less risk of a disjointed flavor combination (say, chocolate-covered shrimp), it’s still important to remember that chocolate has a very strong, somewhat bitter flavor and can easily overwhelm your cooking.
Furthermore, since most people associate chocolate with candy and dessert, a chocolate flavor even without the added sugar can give associations of sweetness that may be unpleasant if they’re too strong.
Savory Cooking with Chocolate Tip #2: Think Fruity
When you’re thinking of ways to integrate the flavor of pure chocolate into your food, think of it as roughly equivalent to a tart or sour fruit. If you think a particular flavor or ingredient would pair well with, say, tart cherries, fresh cranberries, or orange extract, consider pairing it with unsweetened chocolate for a variation on your usual recipe.
Try adding a hint of unsweetened chocolate to the spices dusting a roast turkey or rotisserie chicken. On the other hand, chocolate can enhance the flavor of a sweeter dish as well. If you’re cooking a ham with a sweet glaze, try dusting it with cocoa powder or unsweetened chocolate shavings. A fusion curry could become truly captivating with a slight bitter chocolate edge.
Savory Cooking with Chocolate Tip #3: Types of Chocolate to Use in Savory Cooking
The two main forms of chocolate you will want to use in savory cooking are pure (unsweetened) cocoa powder and unsweetened baking chocolate. Each has its own advantages.
Baking chocolate can be melted for an even coating or ease of mixing, or shaved for beautiful presentation. Cocoa powder is easy to add in small quantities or to dust over a dish for a touch of flavor.
Experiment with it and don’t be afraid of mistakes. If you add too much or pick a bad flavor combination one time, modify it the next, and before you know it your new ideas will pay off in great culinary creativity and success.
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