Valentine’s Day, that celebration of romance, is upon us. Lots of roses, diamond rings, silly things and, well, what to make for an intimate dinner a deux?
How about a dinner built around chocolate? To be more precise, around unsweetened cocoa? This way we can appreciate chocolate for its true bitter, sultry seductiveness, rather than as a rich sweet. What a way to woo or to renew one’s commitment to someone special.
I happen to be a chocoholic who doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth, so I find the flavor of chocolate fascinating. It doesn’t taste like anything else in nature. And with a bit of culinary experimentation, I’ve arrived at some recipes that use chocolate for its purely savory pleasure.
It may seem farfetched at first, but try thinking of cocoa powder as a spice. You can add a teaspoon or more to beef stewed in red wine; it adds a mysterious richness to the marriage of flavors. Add a scant amount to a lobster bisque and see how the cocoa actually makes the lobster flavor sing.
But remember, when using chocolate in its unsweetened state, balance its bitterness with a strong opposite flavor. Garlic and onions help. In many preparations, a small amount of sugar will take the edge off without otherwise troubling the palate.
The use of chocolate should be level-handed so as to not overpower. The following chicken recipe is a good example. In fact, chicken and chocolate make a happy marriage. The same butter, by the way, dresses broiled lobster or sauteed shrimp to even more beautiful effect.
FLATTENED CHICKEN WITH CHOCOLATE-HERB BUTTER
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons minced chives
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon anise-flavored liqueur such as Pernod, optional
1 (2 1/2-pound) chicken
2 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
1 pound mushrooms, washed and quartered
Process butter in blender or food processor with cocoa powder, sugar, chives, garlic, parsley, pepper, salt and liqueur until light and fluffy. Scrape mixture into serving ramekin. Keep at room temperature until ready to serve. Makes about 1/2 cup.
Insert large knife into chicken cavity and cut out backbone. Lay chicken flat on work surface, skin side up, and place bottom of large roasting pan over it. Press down hard on roasting pan to break rib cage and flatten chicken. Rub entire bird with oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
Place chicken in large roasting pan, skin side down. Place smaller baking sheet or pie dish over chicken and weight it down with 3-pound weight (use brick wrapped in foil or fill pie dish with dried beans). Bake at 425 degrees 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 375 degrees. Add mushrooms to roasting pan and continue roasting until chicken and mushrooms are done, about 20 minutes.
Remove from oven and arrange chicken and mushrooms on 2 plates. Place generous spoonful of Chocolate-Herb Butter on top of each chicken half and serve remaining butter on side.
2 servings. Each serving, with 1 tablespoon butter:
919 calories; 657 mg sodium; 248 mg cholesterol; 70 grams fat; 15 grams carbohydrates; 63 grams protein; 2 grams fiber.
SAVORY CHOCOLATE MUFFINS (It’s a Snap)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons bread flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
Stir together bread and all-purpose flours, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt and sugar in mixing bowl. Pour in water, oil and vinegar, stirring until smooth.
Spoon batter into 2-ounce greased cupcake molds. Bake at 325 degrees until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Cool.
12 small muffins. Each muffin:
65 calories; 50 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 8 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 2.10 grams fiber.
CHOCOLATE MOUSSE SEMI-FREDDO
1/4 pound semisweet chocolate
2 teaspoons sugar
2 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons sour cream
Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting
Melt chocolate in top of double boiler over hot, not boiling, water, stirring until smooth. Stir in sugar, then egg yolks. Remove from double boiler. Stir in sour cream. Scrape mixture into small work bowl and set aside.
Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold whites into chocolate mixture. Transfer mixture to small Bundt mold. Place in freezer until completely frozen, at least 6 hours.
To serve, place mold under hot running water until mousse loosens from sides, then turn out onto serving plate. Refrigerate until thawed. Dust with cocoa powder and serve.
4 servings. Each serving:
202 calories; 35 mg sodium; 109 mg cholesterol; 14 grams fat; 19 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 0.28 gram fiber.