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Chocolate is the New Black
Photography by
Shake up your kitchen with two cool-weather entrées that bring out chocolate’s darker, savory side

As a cook, I approached my life with chocolate somewhat hesitantly. Sort of like an arranged marriage, it was a relationship forged by financial necessity and timely opportunity. Chocolate and I were in the right place at the right time, and so we made a pinky-finger promise that we’d give it a go, with hopes that we would find true love along the way. Honestly, between you and me, at the beginning of this affair I was never that into the stuff.


But then, to my surprise, chocolate wooed me. It proved to me that it was good for more than just candy and cake. Chocolate had depth and maturity. It was complicated, but it could solve all sorts of problems. Sure, a truffle wouldn’t be a truffle without it, but it could also be a great partner in a savory kitchen. Before I knew it, I was head over heels in love with the stuff, for reasons quite outside the box.


As an ingredient in savory recipes, chocolate has a lot going for it. It comes to us dried, aged, and roasted. A good quality “single origin” bean will carry the subtle flavors of the particular region in which it was grown as well as the individual characteristics of the plant varietal. If it has been dried, aged, and roasted with care, these unique flavors—well-preserved in the considerable amount of fat the bean contains—naturally bloom and concentrate. In a quality, single-origin bittersweet chocolate, sugar is added judiciously to celebrate the unique flavors of the bean, rather than merely offsetting the bitterness. It is ground for optimum smoothness, and the use of even a small amount will not only add a pleasantly lingering and noticeable umami to savory sauces and stews but also improve their texture.


When using chocolate in savory recipes, resist the urge to use that wrapped and re-wrapped unsweetened “baking” bar that has been sitting in your cupboard forever. Instead, choose a not-too-bitter bittersweet chocolate. I suggest a 55%–65%, well-balanced with noticeable sweetness. Most chocolate contains lecithin, and that comes in handy when we’re using chocolate in sauces and stews. Lecithin is an emulsifier, and so will naturally smooth out texture in a stew, or add body to a sauce. The fat in chocolate—otherwise known as cocoa butter—is an exceptional vehicle for flavor. It not only carries and preserves all those subtle notes that existed in the bean itself, but it enhances the other flavors in your recipes and helps spread them throughout the dish, especially if you give it some time to work. Just make sure that the bar you choose is actually made with cocoa butter, and not (as some are) an inferior variety of vegetable oil.


If you want chocolate’s unique umami in a dry rub (such as the one in the recipe for Cornish hens), use unsweetened cocoa, but be sure to balance its bitterness with something sweet. I use honey for the hens, but it could be as simple as adding sugar to the rub. 


Above all, experiment and taste. You may find as I did that chocolate has more seductive powers when you explore how to cook with it outside of the (candy) box.



White Posole Stew with Shredded Pork and Chocolate

I think it helps to use a slow cooker to cook the pork for this recipe. You can start it in the morning, it’s completely hands-off, produces a decent amount of stock for the recipe, and will be ready to rock by dinnertime.


Serves 8–10


1 medium yellow onion, sliced

1 4-pound bone-in pork shoulder or half picnic roast

1 cup apple cider

2½ teaspoons salt, divided, plus more to taste

½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds

½ teaspoon dried oregano

2 tablespoons pork fat reserved from roast, divided

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

4 ancho chiles, seeds and stems removed, torn into pieces.

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

1½ teaspoon salt (and more to taste)

4 cups-plus chicken stock

2 ounces 55%–65% bittersweet chocolate, grated

1 28-ounce can white hominy* 

½ head red or green cabbage, shredded

8–10 radishes, sliced very thin

1 lime, cut into 8–10 wedges

8–10 sprigs cilantro


*You can use dried New Mexican posole if that is what is available in your area. Just prepare the kernels according to the package directions and substitute ounce-for-ounce for the hominy.


Layer the sliced yellow onion onto the bottom of a large slow cooker. 

Place the picnic roast on top of the onions. Pour the apple cider over 

the pork, and sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt. Cover the slow cooker, and cook on high for 4–6 hours, or until the meat is falling off the bone and 

shreds easily. (If you don’t have a slow cooker, use a Dutch oven or cast iron pan with a cover.


Remove the pork from the slow cooker, and shred the meat, discarding the bone. Skim (but reserve) the fat off the liquid left in the pot, and strain the remaining stock. Set the meat and stock aside until ready to serve.


In a dry skillet, toast the cumin seeds over medium heat until fragrant. Add the oregano and toast for just a couple of seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and empty the spices into a mortar to cool. Grind the cumin and oregano with a pestle until they are powdery.  

Heat half the pork fat in a medium soup pot. Add the chopped yellow onion and cook until softened slightly and translucent. Add the dried chiles to the pot, and toast until just fragrant. (Be careful not to burn them.)


When the chiles are toasted just right, add enough chicken stock to barely cover the vegetables, and cover the pot. Cook at a simmer until the chiles and onions are very soft. Remove the pot from the heat and put the vegetables through a food mill.


Heat the remaining pork fat in the same pot over a medium flame, and 

then add the chile/onion paste. Sauté the paste until reduced slightly 

and darkened, about 5 minutes. Add the cumin/oregano mixture, cloves, 

1½ teaspoons salt, and the chocolate, and stir to combine. Add the 

pork stock, chicken stock, and hominy (including the liquid). Simmer and 

salt to taste until the flavors begin to round out and meld. About an 

hour.


When ready to serve, place a small mound of shredded pork in each bowl. Ladle over the stew, and then top with cabbage and radish, adding lime wedge and cilantro sprig. Serve with warm tortillas.


Cocoa-Rubbed Game Hens with Blistered Concord Grapes

Serves 4


2 small Cornish game hens

2 tablespoons natural cocoa powder

2 teaspoons five spice powder

1 teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

8 shallots, peeled and quartered

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

¼–½ cup water

1 large bunch Concord grapes, about 1 pound

3–4 small sprigs of fresh rosemary


Heat oven to 375°. Rinse and pat dry the game hens. 


Mix the cocoa, five spice powder, salt, and black pepper in a small bowl. Place the hens in shallow dish, and sift the rub mixture over them, rubbing mix into their skins all over.


Heat the olive oil in a wide oven-proof skillet (cast iron is good) over a medium flame. When the oil is hot, place the birds, breast side down, in the pan, setting aside the dish the birds were in and any leftover rub. Sear the breasts for 3 or 4 minutes, then carefully loosen them with a spatula so as not to tear the delicate skin, and flip.


Add the shallots to the pan, and sauté for another 4 or 5 minutes.


While birds and shallots cook, mix the balsamic vinegar, honey, and water in the shallow dish the birds were in. Scrape any leftover spice rub into the liquid. When the shallots are lightly browned and blistered, add the vinegar/honey/rub mixture into the skillet, add the grapes and rosemary sprigs, and shake the pan to loosen the birds and deglaze the pan.

 

Immediately put the skillet in the hot oven and roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the internal temperature of the thickest part reads 165°. Remove the skillet from the oven.

 

Arrange the roasted birds and the grapes on a platter. While they rest, place the skillet over a medium high flame and reduce the drippings and the shallots to a jammy glaze. This will take about 5 minutes. Pour the glaze over the birds, or serve it in a gravy dish, tableside.


Kate Shaffer is the author of Desserted: Recipes and Tales from an Island Chocolatier, and owns Black Dinah Chocolatiers, an award-winning confectionery with locations in Westbrook and Blue Hill, Maine.

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