I was recently approached about writing this column at the farmers market where we had a vendor booth selling and marketing my newest venture, which is a wine and chocolate bar named Coco Dolce. We sell chocolate bonbons and truffles specifically designed to pair with the small family estate wines that we sell. The natural characteristics of chocolate combined with other sweet and savory combinations inside the chocolates help accentuate the fruit, mineral, and other flavor profiles of the wine.
I thought a more interesting approach than a recipe for a bonbon would be to show the diversity and concept behind this combining of wine with chocolate.
What most don't realize is the amazing diversity of chocolate in cooking and the amazing characteristics that can be created through the wine making process that are then translated into dishes in which the wine and chocolate are used. There are so many different iterations of each that it would be impossible to talk about all of them here. I am hoping to spark your curiosity by showing one example of how chocolate and wine can be used in cooking to highlight and enhance other common ingredients.
Chocolate was first discovered and cultivated by the Maya. This recipe is a slight homage to this culture's use of cocoa. They would extract the pulp from the pods that grow on the cocoa tree and mix them with chilies and other ingredients. They would turn this into a bitter drink that carried significant religious and social meaning for them. They did not have access to sugar and drank the chocolate mixture in a very bitter form. As the Aztecs took control of a large portion of the middle Americas they traded with the Maya in chocolate and even used it as one of their currencies. The idea of chocolate as a confection did not come about until the Spanish conquered the Aztecs and brought back chocolate with them to Europe where they combined it with sugar to balance it's natural bitterness.
The inherent characteristics in chocolate are widely varied from one cocoa plantation to another and tend to reflect the specific origins of the cocoa seeds. This is one of the reasons that it pairs so well with wine as it is the same specific characteristics of the origin of the grapes that can make wines so unique and complex. These unique characteristics of fruit, minerals, sweetness, bitterness and other flavor profiles are what attract connoisseurs to each and what allow chocolate and wine to be paired with one another to enhance their natural characteristics. These same characteristics enrich pairing with a diversity of other foods.
The ingredients in this recipe are all designed to pair with the chocolate and wine and enhance these characteristics. The chilies are the most obvious and they bring out the natural fruitiness and sweetness in the wine and the chocolate. The steak helps accentuate the mineral characteristics and the earthiness as do the mushrooms and asparagus. The butter and the cream help meld and soften the flavors allowing them to blend together harmoniously and the onions' sweetness brought out by the roasting process, combat the bitterness of thechocolate.
I think you will be pleasantly surprised with the outcome and may be inspired to expand your chocolate use beyond the occasional bar.
Pan Roasted New York Steak with Bordeaux and Dark Chocolate
4 - 11⁄2 inch thick New York steaks (10-12 ounces)
1 cup Bordeaux or other fruit forward red wine
2 ounces heavy cream
2 ounces dark chocolate ( between 62-74 percent cocoa solids)
6 ounces non-salted butter
24 asparagus spears
8 ounces cremini mushrooms halved
1 red onion cut into 8 wedges with the core still attached
20 Thai chilies (may substitute less spicy chilies)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 rosemary sprigs
Salt and Pepper
Pull the steaks out of the fridge 45 minutes before you start cooking, dry them completely with a paper towel and liberally season with salt and pepper (about twice as much as you think is appropriate is probably just shy of right, as some will be lost to the pan during the roasting process). Let steaks come to room temperature. These steps allow for even cooking and seasoning.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees on convection oven or 450 degrees if you don't have a convection oven.
Heat a medium sauce pan filled with water over high heat. As it begins to boil salt the water (it should taste like sea water - about a tablespoon for every 4 cups of water). I like to add 1-2 tablespoons of a neutral vinegar, such as unseasoned rice vinegar, to the water to prevent color loss in the asparagus..
Preheat a cast iron or stainless steel pan over medium high heat until it begins to smoke. The pan should be just a little larger than what it would take to hold all the steaks.
Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil to the preheated pan, add the steaks and lightly shake the pan to prevent sticking. Cook for four minutes. Flip the steaks and add the rosemary sprigs, 15 of the Thai chilies, the onion wedges, and 4 ounces of the butter. Put the pan into the preheated oven for 12 minutes for medium rare.
Add the asparagus spears to the boiling water and blanch for 45 seconds. Remove from the water and plunge into ice water to stop the cooking process and to preserve the color. Dry the asparagus on a towel.
When steaks are ready remove from the oven and pan and let sit; discard other solids in pan preserving the onions. Deglaze pan with red wine over medium heat and allow wine to reduce by half. Add cream and chocolate and lightly stir to incorporate. Bring to a simmer and add the remaining butter cut into small cubes while gently stirring the sauce. The consistency should be just thicker than cream. Turn off the heat and allow sauce to sit.
Add the mushrooms to a pan over medium-high heat with a small amount of vegetable oil in it. When the mushrooms begin to caramelize add the asparagus spears, the onions, and the remaining Thai chilies to warm and season with salt and pepper.
Spoon an equal portion of sauce in center of each plate, top with steak and distribute the vegetables around steaks on plate.
• Mylan Schmidt is the managing partner of Coco Dolce, which focuses on matching wines and chocolates. The restaurant is located at 1910 College Parkway, Suite 130, 775-636-9051, or go to www.cocodolce.com.