Experiment with unusual combinations of different ingredients with chocolate and savour the amazing results.
When I was in the third year of secondary school I developed a dangerous addiction to a snack called Flipz. These utterly delicious treats were pretzels covered in white or dark chocolate and it was through them that I first discovered the wonder of salty chocolate.
To my dismay, these days no one seems to remember Flipz, and the fact that they seem to have disappeared into the ether (in this country at least) tells me that I was probably one of only a few Flipz addicts.
The impact of that delightful, tastebud-prickling combination of chocolate and salt left a deep imprint on my memory however, and so it is with great joy that I’ve seen more and more ‘openly’ salty chocolate hit the shelves of late.
I say openly because while it’s no secret that salt has been combined with chocolate successfully for years in chocolate bars such as Snickers and the swoony Reese’s cups, it is only in recent times that we’ve really started to embrace such supposed culinary quirkiness. Witness this delicious savoury baklava or this cheesy bread and butter pudding.
Where once chocolate laced with sea salt might have been viewed as bizarre if not downright disgusting, the fact that these days you can find bars like Lindt’s A Touch of Sea Salt on sale widely indicates that our tastes are changing.
The Heston effect
I believe we have Heston Blumenthal to thank, in part, for our newfound gutsiness when it comes to food. He has done more to challenge the way we perceive food than any other contemporary chef to my mind. His endless creativity as seen in his recent Feasts series is awe-inspiring.
And I don’t know about you, but I always feel so excited by his unusual combinations of ingredients. Chocolate caviar anyone?
Another chef worth noting for his blurring of food boundaries is Paul A.Young. If you haven’t come across this master chocolatier’s book Adventures with Chocolate, be advised, for it is like a dictionary of food porn. For a taste of what I mean, have a go at his naughty little port and stilton chocolate truffles.
Savoury chocolate in history
We have to look a bit further back than Heston and Paul to find the first marriage of chocolate with a savoury ingredient, though.
Around 1500 years ago in Central America the Mayans were brewing a spicy, bittersweet drink made from combining the roasted and pounded seeds of the cacao tree with maize and capsicum (chilli) peppers.
Like the Mayans, the Aztecs of Central Mexico also enjoyed making a beverage out of fermented cacao beans and spices. They called this drink ‘xocalatl’, which is where the word chocolate originates.
Perhaps xocalatl was the inspiration for the chilli-chocolate sauce mole, (pronounced mo-lay), popular today in Mexico. Or, to be precise, mole poblano, for there are lots of other moles which do not contain chocolate.
This sumptuous sauce is used in many meat and vegetable-based dishes including enchiladas, and is served over turkey at special occasions such as weddings and Christmas. While it is traditionally used to accompany meat, vegetarians will find mole poblano goes just as nicely with beans.
Savoury chocolate abroad
Elsewhere in the world you can find the French serving venison topped with a chocolate and red wine sauce; in Spain chocolate sauces are used in calf’s tongue and lobster dishes, while in Italy it appears in pasta, wild boar recipes and rabbit stew. For a tasty, more traditional stew, check out Tom Aikens’ version.
Perhaps my favourite unusual use for chocolate comes in the recipe for mpanatigghi. A speciality of the town of Modica in Sicily, mpanatigghi are little half-moon shaped biscuits stuffed with a mixture of minced beef, melted chocolate, chopped almonds, sugar, eggs and cloves.
While I wouldn’t try this myself as I don’t eat meat, I would love to hear from anyone who has!
Closer to home, (and less bizarrely), I recently gave chocolate and beetroot cake a go. I had wanted to try this combination out for a while and was intrigued to find that as well as bringing added sweetness, the beetroot works a treat at keeping the cake moist. Find the recipe on my blog.
What do you think?
Have you got a favourite, unusual way with chocolate? Or another sweet and savoury pairing that’s a perfect match? Let us know in the comments box below!
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