Ask Chef Hosch and Ann

Chef Hosch and Ann are a husband-and-wife team devoted to healthy and gourmet cooking and catering. Ann is gluten intolerant and an occupational therapist, who has worked as a cook and baker prior to meeting Hosch. Chef Hosch is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, N.Y., and brings more than 25 years of experience and passion to his culinary arts. His work as executive chef in hospitals has honed his skills for anyone with special diets as well as cooking for large crowds. Chef Hosch and Ann specialize in creating fabulous foods for all tastes and diets.

Q: Chef, I recently came upon a recipe for chicken with a mole sauce and was surprised to find chocolate listed as one of the ingredients. I always thought chocolate was for sweets. Can you tell me more about cooking with chocolate? – Beth F.

A: The recipe you found was probably for Mole Poblano, a type of mole (pronounced mo-lay) sauce that contains chocolate. It is a fairly well known Mexican recipe that uses chocolate as an ingredient.

Savory cooking with chocolate is making a comeback in both fine dining and for casual family meals. Chocolate has a long and interesting history beginning at least two thousand years ago when it was consumed as an ancient “power drink” by the Mayans and the Aztecs. Cocoa beans were ground and combined with spices such as chile pepper, achiote, pimento and vanilla and mixed with wine or water. It was frothy and bitter and nothing like our modern day hot chocolate.

Throughout most of its long history, it was mainly used in savory foods and beverages. Chocolate has only been popular as a sweet confection for the past 1500 years or so. It became a sweet treat when the Europeans took cocoa beans back home from the Americas and came up with ways to process them, sweeten them and to eventually mass produce chocolate.

Today, chocolate is found everywhere from convenience marts to vending machines, from grocery stores to high school fundraisers. We can choose from many flavors and forms of chocolate, most of which contain more additives than actual cocoa.

Most are not meant to cook with. The chocolate bar you pick up while waiting in line at the grocery store probably isn’t suited for savory cooking with chocolate.

Savory chocolate recipes require semi sweet, bittersweet or unsweetened chocolate that has a cocoa ration of 65 percent or higher. The ratio is a universal measure used to classify chocolate. The higher the percentage, the more cocoa the chocolate contains. Milk chocolate has a cocoa ratio of less than 40 percent and is not a good candidate for savory recipes. It is too sweet and contains other ingredients that lend themselves better to sweet recipes.

When using cocoa in your savory cooking, look for natural cocoa or 100 percent cocoa rather than Dutch processed. The processing neutralizes the acids and eliminates some of the “kick” of the cocoa. Since chocolate is used sparingly in savory recipes, the acids in the cocoa add to the overall blending of flavors.

The chocolate must be melted for recipes with a liquid base, so solid chocolate works best. For rubs or sprinkling, cocoa powder is the obvious choice. The roasted center of the cocoa bean, referred to as the nibs, can be grated like peppercorns and used as a garnish to accent a salad.

Although, at first, chocolate might seem to be a strange ingredient in a hearty dish, but it is one of many foods that work in all kinds of recipes, from sweet to savory, from main course to dessert.

There are many other versatile ingredients; spices such as nutmeg or cinnamon, fruits such as cherries, cranberries or oranges, vegetables such as pumpkin, squash or sweet potatoes. Most foods are not limited to only savory or only sweet recipes.

Blending sweet, tangy, earthy and hearty flavors together makes an entirely new taste sensation. Sweet and sour sauces, glazed carrots, honey ham and candied sweet potatoes are just a few of the many dishes that marry sweet and savory.

Your imagination is the limit when cooking with chocolate. It can be a secret ingredient in sauces, soups, marinades, rubs, garnishes and pastas.

It enhances the flavor of proteins. It evens out the gamy taste of strong meats such as venison or duck. It goes well with a hearty fish like swordfish or salmon.

It even complements cheese. Chocolate is often paired with root vegetables like sweet potatoes or parsnips, either sprinkled on the vegetables or in a sauce.

Top a salad or cream soup with chocolately croutons. Toss French or Italian bread cubes in melted butter and sprinkle with cocoa powder and just a touch of powdered sugar.

Serve the main course atop a dinner plate drizzled with melted chocolate, similar to a garnish for fancy desserts.

Grate a small amount of bittersweet chocolate over a mixed green salad with feta cheese and vinegarette dressing. Add a bit of melted chocolate to homemade or even to store bought barbecue sauce for extra flavor.

Some spices and flavorings go especially well with chocolate. Cumin, fresh peppercorns, garlic, fennel, rosemary, thyme, red wine, apple cider or balsamic vinegar are enhanced when paired with chocolate.

In Mexican and Latin American recipes, a bit of chocolate tones down the bite of fresh chili peppers or chili powders. The recipe you found for mole sauce is an example of using chocolate in spicy dishes.

A few words of caution when cooking with chocolate; use the chocolate sparingly, similar to flavoring with fine wine. More is usually not better and adding too much chocolate can quickly overpower a recipe.

Think of it more as a spice. It is not meant to dominate the dish but rather to bring out the flavors of the other ingredients. When added sparingly chocolate makes even ordinary meals spectacular.

Following is a recipe for Pan Seared Beef Tenderloin with Cherry Sauce. It utilizes three types of chocolate cooking methods. Cocoa powder is used in the meat rub and also in the cherry sauce. Bar chocolate is an ingredient in the sauce.

Meat rub

4 tablespoon cocoa powder

3 tablespoon chili pepper

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon cumin

4 beef tenderloins, 6 ounces each

Cherry sauce

3 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup chopped fresh shallots

1 large clove of garlic

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary

1/2 cup red wine

1/2 cup cherry preserves

3 tablespoon cocoa powder

1 ounce 70 percent dark chocolate

1/4 cup dry cherries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix all dry ingredients for meat rub.

Rub into meat, coating completely. Sear tenderloin on all sides in cast iron skillet.

Remove meat from skillet while still rare. Place in baking dish in the oven to keep warm during sauce preparation.

Using medium heat, add olive oil to skillet used to sear the tenderloins. Lightly saute the shallots, rosemary and garlic until they are transparent. Add red wine and cherry preserves.

Turn heat to high, whisking continuously for 5 minutes. Lower temperature to medium low and slowly grate dark chocolate into sauce. Slowly sprinkle the dry cocoa into the sauce, whisking continuously.

The dry cocoa will thicken the sauce slightly. If the sauce starts to become too thick, don’t add all the cocoa. Add dried cherries.

Pour a small amount of sauce on dinner plate. Place tenderloins on top of the sauce and spoon additional cherry sauce over the meat.

Seven to 10 minutes in the oven will produce a rare steak (internal temperature 140 degrees) Adjust time accordingly for more well done meat.

Q: But Chef, I’m allergic to chocolate! Any ideas on incorporating the sweet/savory element in another form I can eat?

A: Although it is not an exact swap, carob can be used in place of chocolate in savory cooking. Carob powder would work just fine in meat rubs.

Keep in mind that carob is naturally sweeter than chocolate and alter the amount to compensate for that. “Bar” carob does not melt as evenly as chocolate but it can be used as a substitute in sauces.

White chocolate contains no cocoa (only cocoa butter and sweeteners) and can be consumed by those who are allergic to the cocoa part of chocolate.

When melted in sauces, it adds an element of creamy, sweet undertones.

Remember though, like carob, it is much sweeter than its darker counterpart and requires an even lighter hand when adding it to recipes.

Below is a recipe for a white chocolate sauce for fish. Use chicken broth instead of fish broth and the sauce becomes a perfect complement to chicken dishes.

Pork, which was once touted as the “other white meat,” is delicious drizzled with a cream sauce made with a hint of white chocolate.

White chocolate Sauce

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup fish stock or clam juice

1 ounce white chocolate

1 1/2 teaspoon chili pepper

1 tablespoon green fresh pepper

3 tablespoon heavy cream

Melt butter. Add flour. Cook 3 to 5 minutes until slightly brown. Add stock or clam juice. Simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. Add chocolate.

Add cream. Sprinkle with green pepper. Sauce goes well with salmon, tilapia, haddock, sole or cod.

We would love to know how your cooking adventures turn out!

Chef Hosch and Ann’s column prints on the first Wednesday of each month.

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