Chocolate is most commonly used for the sweeter side of cooking and baking, but did you know there is a savory side of chocolate as well? Chocolate and cocoa powder have been used for years as a savory component of sauces and marinades, most popularly in Mexican recipes, and creative chefs today are incorporating cocoa powder and chocolate into remarkable main course meals. Adding chocolate to a dish adds a rich depth of flavor and a great contrast of sweet and savory – here are just a few of the centerpiece recipes you can make with chocolate.
How to cook savory meals with chocolate
Choosing chocolate or cocoa powder
When preparing a savory chocolate sauce, marinade or dry rub, you can either use cocoa powder (preferably Dutch process) or a chocolate bar (preferably unsweetened or bittersweet). If you are making a traditional Mexican-style chocolate mole sauce, usually real chocolate bars are used and melted into the sauce, but cocoa powder can be used as well. If making a dry rub or marinade, cocoa powder is the chocolate of choice. And regardless of the type of chocolate you use, make sure it is good quality.
Complementary flavors for chocolate
The most common flavors associated with savory chocolate dishes are smoky and spicy. Cayenne and chile peppers are commonly used to add heat while chipotle, paprika and cumin are used to add smokiness. Cinnamon is an excellent spice for chocolate because it imparts just a hint of warm, earthy sweetness. The goal of using chocolate in a main dish is to keep it from being too sweet. Cocoa powder and unsweetened chocolate are not sweet at all and have more of a true chocolate quality, so you want to bring out those natural flavors instead of making them reminiscent of the sweet side of chocolate we know and love.
Chocolate and protein pairings
Chicken, pork and beef are perhaps the best proteins to work with when using chocolate. The warm and bold flavors of a mole sauce or rub pairs exceptionally well with these proteins and the sauce does not overpower the meat and vice versa. Short ribs, flank steak and pork loin are cuts of meat are good choices, but pretty much any cut of these proteins can be used. Chili is also a dish that benefits from the use of chocolate. Vegetarian chili, pork, beef, chicken or turkey chili all have layers of flavors that will be enhanced when cocoa powder is added to the mix.