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Show your love this Valentine’s Day with chocolate


Since Valentine’s Day is this week, I felt compelled to write about the No. 1 candy dedicated to this day — chocolate!

I know, I have piped it with fillings during the Christmas season, paired it with elegant wine at the local chocolate store and, if that wasn’t enough, I took bacon and coated it with chocolate. What more can possibly be done?

Well, in the last year or two, experienced chefs have been orchestrating a tango between chocolate and spices with a healthy sprinkle of chili!

If you find the idea hard to swallow, remember that South Americans have been spicing up chocolate for centuries. This exotic pairing is still evident in Latin American cuisine, particularly in dishes like the mole and chilli con carne.

Right now, savoury chocolate is in vogue and is a mainstream flavour combination. In fact, it’s become so popular that Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut, a Calgary-based company, recently won an International Chocolate award for its seasoned chocolate marketed as Rosemary Fusion chocolate. The Rosemary Fusion combines world famous Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut milk chocolate with rosemary, thyme and a shake of habanero sea salt.

Since the chocolate is available at the Chocolates by Bernard Callebaut in the Red Deer store at the Village Square Mall, I went in to experience the chocolate first hand. The 100-gram bar looked unassuming and harmless until I popped it into my mouth. The texture felt like any other candy but as the milky chocolate melted, it took off to a new level of craziness with a bouquet of herbal essence. And then, as an afterthought, just when you’re starting to wonder where the habanero is, it comes as an explosive heat wave, invading your mouth.

As your palate tingles, you can’t help but think: is it a sweet treat or a savoury little hors d’oeuvres that has totally stimulated the appetite for more? Although this chocolate could easily ward off the three o’clock hunger pains, it has been suggested that it be paired with sparkling wines and more unusually with charcuterie items like cured meats, creamy milk cheese, nuts, gourmet breads and crackers.

As upscale chocolateries are taking their chocolate profile along the cutting edge and pushing the envelope with ingredient flavours, so are fine chefs who are letting go of what the preconception of chocolate was — which for 99.9 percent of people is a candy bar — to making it a remarkable ingredient to savoury dishes.

The reason why this works is that chocolate is made from cocoa solids and cocoa butter; both are smooth and silky, which act as an incredible texture-builder in recipes. Contemporary cooks can beef up their wine reductions and pan sauces with grated chocolate, where it acts as a liaison or emulsifier, and at the same time, accentuating flavours and pulling them together.

The cocoa solids provided by cocoa powder can also thicken sauces and impart a deep colour, either brown or red depending on the product, which adds eye appeal to the classic Mexican mole, and often to chillies and stews. The slightly acidic bitterness of darker chocolates also helps bring out other flavours, and can really balance a dish.

When using chocolate in a main dish you want to remember to keep it from being too sweet. Cocoa powder, unsweetened chocolate or chocolate with 70 per cent cocoa — all have more of a true chocolate quality that will bring out natural flavours in a dish instead of making them reminiscent of the sweet side of chocolate we know and love.

Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at madhubadoni@gmail.com or on Twitter @madhubadoni. Watch for Madhu’s Masala-Mix blog on www.reddeeradvocate.com.

Recipies

Chocolate Dipped Rummy Chilli Pepper

6 Large, mild chilli peppers

Spiced rum

200 g good dark chocolate

½ cup hot water

Using a small sharp knife, cut a long slit down one side of each chilli. Remove seeds and membrane. (You might want to wear some plastic gloves at this point.) Poach the chillies in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then strain. Put chillies into a clean jar or other container, and pour in enough of the rum to cover them. Put a lid on and leave the chillies to marinate for at least 12 hours.

Melt 100 g of the chocolate, using the microwave or double boiler. Once melted, begin adding the water, a tablespoon at a time. Stir in each spoonful thoroughly, waiting until it is fully incorporated before adding the next. Don’t worry if the mixture seems to be seizing, just keep adding the liquid and stirring. Eventually you will get a smooth, runny chocolate mix (takes about six tablespoons, but can vary depending on the fat content of your chocolate). Leave the ganache to cool a little, until it is a pipe able consistency.

Meanwhile, fish out the chillies from the alcohol and drain off any extra liquid. Fill a piping bag with the ganache, cut off the end and pipe the filling into the chillies. Wipe away any excess squeezing out. Leave the them to set for a couple of hours, or stick them in the fridge to speed up the process.

Once the ganache has set, melt the rest of the chocolate and coat the chillies with it. Lay them on some baking parchment to set.

Chocolate Covered Short Ribs

1/4 cup diced bacon

6 pounds bone-in short ribs

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1-1/2 cups diced onions

1/4 cup diced shallots

1/4 cup diced celery

1/4 cup diced peeled carrots

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups red wine

3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

2 cups chopped canned diced tomatoes, drained

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 fresh thyme sprig

1 bay leaf

3 tablespoons shaved or grated unsweetened chocolate

2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

Cook bacon in a large pot until crispy. Take bacon out with a slotted spoon and reserve on paper towels. Sprinkle short ribs with salt and pepper and sear in pot with bacon drippings about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove ribs and reserve on a plate. Sauté onions, shallots, celery, carrots and garlic in same pot until softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Pour in red wine and bring mixture to a boil for about 5 minutes or until liquid is reduced by about half — be sure to scrape the bottom of the pot to release any browned bits. Add broth, tomatoes, parsley, thyme spring, bay leaf, bacon and short ribs to pot. Stir and place lid over pot. Cook for about 1-1/2 hours.

Take lid off of pot and continue simmering for 1-1/2 hours or until ribs are tender. Remove ribs with a slotted spoon and reserve on a plate. Remove bay leaf and spoon off any fat that has risen to the top of the sauce. Bring sauce to a boil for about 8 minutes or until it begins to become thick. Lower heat to medium and add chocolate, cocoa powder and rosemary. Cook, stirring, until chocolate melts. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add ribs back into pot and cook until heated through. Serve warm.

Venezuelan Chocolate Chicken

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 shallots, chopped fine

3 pounds chicken, thighs and legs

3 oranges, zest and juice

3 jalapeno chilies, chopped and seeded

2 dried ancho chilies, shredded and seeded

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

15 ounces diced canned tomatoes

1 tablespoon brown sugar

3 ounces 70 per cent cacao dark chocolate, broken into pieces

4 sprigs cilantro, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 400F. Heat oil in heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat, about 1 minute. Cook garlic and shallots until tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Brown chicken on each side, about 10 minutes. Add orange juice, zest, fresh and dried chilies, coriander seeds, tomatoes and sugar. Bring to low boil, about 5 minutes. Cover and simmer 20 minutes. Place skillet in oven and cook 20 minutes. Remove from oven and set chicken aside from skillet. Add chocolate pieces to skillet and stir until blended, about 2 minutes, at which point there will be a dark gravy-like sauce. Return chicken to skillet. Serve over rice and black beans with chicken smothered in sauce.

 
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