by Kate Shaffer
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.
Chocolate-Infused Pork Posole
I think it helps to use a crock pot 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.
1 4lb bone-in pork shoulder (I used a “half picnic roast”)
1 medium-sized yellow onion, sliced
1 cup apple cider
4 ancho chiles, seeds and stems removed, and torn into pieces.
2 tablespoons reserved pork fat, divided
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2-1/2 teaspoon salt (and more to taste)
2 ounces 55-65% bittersweet chocolate, grated
4 cups chicken stock
1 28-ounce can white hominy (Alternatively, 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.)
1/2 head red or green cabbage, shredded
8-10 radishes, sliced very thin
1 lime, cut into 8-10 wedges
8-10 sprigs of cilantro
- Layer the sliced yellow onion onto the bottom of a large crock pot. Place the picnic roast on top of the onions. Pour the apple cider over the pork, and sprinkle with about a teaspoon of salt. Cover the pot, and cook on high for 4-6 hours, or until the meat is falling of the bone and shreds easily.
- Remove the pork from the crock pot, and shred the meat, discarding the bone. Skim (but reserve) the fat off the liquid left in the pot, and strain the stock. Place the meat aside until ready to serve.
- In a dry skillet, toast the cumin seeds 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 the oregano with a pestle until they are powdery.
- Heat one tablespoon of 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. Try not to blacken them. I know it can be hard to tell because of their already dark color, so really use your nose. If you take them too far, they will add a bitterness to your stew that is kind of a pain to remedy. I only know because I’ve done it. More than once. So trust me.
- When the chiles are toasted just right, add enough chicken stock to just cover the vegetables, and cover the pot. Cook 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. Saute the paste until reduced slightly and darkened; about 5 minutes. Add the spices, salt, and chocolate, and stir to combine.
- Add the pork stock, chicken stock, and hominy (including the liquid). Simmer and salt 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 garnishes of choice. Serve with warm tortillas.