Cooking with chocolate

Cooking with chocolate will let you try some adventurous innovations. Use chocolate not only in sweet dishes, but savory as well.

The proper ingredients and techniques for cooking with chocolate depend, of course, on your recipe. For most cooking chores, unsweetened chocolate is best. As the name suggests, this is 'pure' chocolate with no sugar added. Other recipes will require using semi-sweetened chocolate, which is about 40% sugar. In some cases, dark chocolate with the highest cocoa and sugar content (55% or more) is called for. Milk chocolate rarely makes the list of ingredients.

Whichever type you use, some of the same principles apply.

All chocolate melts at close to human body temperature. That 'melt in the mouth' quality is one reason we enjoy it so much. But it also means that it isn't necessary, or desirable, to heat chocolate to very high temperatures unless already part of a recipe mixture. Generally 120°F/49°C is the upper limit, otherwise the chocolate will get scorched, the sugars will caramelize and the dish will be ruined.

On the other end of the temperature scale, it isn't usually necessary to store your chocolate in the refrigerator. Excessively cool temperatures can cause sugar and cocoa butter crystals to clump together, creating a 'bloom', as it's called. This can happen with excess heat, too. While not unsafe, it doesn't lead to the best taste. Melting will undo most of that, but not all. Best to store in a cool, dry place instead.

Chocolate makes its way into some surprising dishes. As a confection or dessert, it's well known. But there are many meat dishes where it adds a little je ne sais quoi, that indefinable hint of deliciousness that we can't describe but can always taste.

Chili con carne with chocolate is a great example. You'll need two ounces of bittersweet chocolate added to your favorite chili recipe, such as the recipe below.

Sometimes chocolate is used not in the dish, but on it. It often makes for a great sauce. To make a white chocolate sauce that is perfect for pork chops, for instance, is simplicity itself.

Try something new once in a while with your dishes and your diners will be grateful. You will too when you taste the delicious concoctions you create.

Chili con carne with chocolate

2 lbs of minced beef
14 ounces of black beans
14 ounces of tomato paste
2 cloves of chopped garlic
3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 chopped red chilies
2 teaspoons of salt
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate

Prepare the chili as you would normally. Cook the beef and add the olive oil, tomatoes, garlic and chilies, salt, then add the beans and heat. Now for the special part. Add the chocolate and melt it in slowly over low heat. The result is a very different, but highly tasty, chili dish.

White chocolate sauce

2 ounces of white chocolate
1 cup broth
3 tablespoons of butter
3 teaspoons of flour

Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat, then add the flour and blend. Pour in the broth and heat for about 15 minutes, stirring gently. Remove from heat and add the white chocolate, stirring gently to mix well. That's all there is to it!