Dark Chocolate | R.L.

Friends who are interested in Spanish regional cooking buy the occasional cookbook (in Spanish) in the hope that they’ll find a recipe or two which will stimulate their tastebuds and work as an incentive to try something really different.

Well, they usually come across recipes they’ve never heard of — but instead of encouraging them to have a go, some of the recipes are turn-offs rather than the hoped-for turn-ons.
They find two kinds of recipes which they think of as being ‘really weird’. One of them concerns fish or poultry dishes that use dark chocolate as a flavouring.

They consider that to be a true culinary aberration, but that’s not the case in Spain — there are savoury dishes all over the country in which dark chocolate is used as a flavouring.
Note the last word in the previous paragraph: the dark chocolate is being used as a condiment and it is added in such small amounts that its taste is sometimes almost imperceptible.

The Cataláns are especially fond of dark chocolate in a monkfish recipe, two or three for rabbit and another for lobster and chicken. In the ‘rape a la catalana’ recipe, 60 grs of dark chocolate are used for 1.25 kilos of monkfish. In a recipe that includes a one-kilo chicken and a medium sized lobster, 100 grs of chocolate are called for. But in a recipe for a whole plump rabbit, only 15 grs are used.

In some of the recipes which feature dark chocolate, you wouldn’t be aware of its presence unless you were told the cook had used some. Yet if the chocolate were left out, the sauce would be quite different, lacking somewhat in consistency and taste.

The use of sweeteners in savoury dishes goes back to ancient times. The Greeks and the Romans were fond of adding dried fruits such as raisins to all kinds of fish and meat recipes.

The Arabs dominated the Iberian peninsula for centuries and gave Spaniards a taste for the sweet things in life. That’s why Spanish pastries are so varied and delicious — and why Spaniards also like meats and other savoury ingredients with a suspicion of sweetness.
So when Columbus brought back cacao beans from the New World and chocolate was made from them, it followed that some of it was eventually used in savoury dishes.

At that time cooking in Europe was dominated by sweetness. Especially popular were sweet soups, one of which was made with rice and milk. When sweetness in savoury foods went out of fashion, most of these soups simply disappeared but the one made with milk and rice survived. It was transferred to the end of the meal and became known as rice pudding.

But Spanish savoury recipes with chocolate as one of the ingredients are unlikely to become desserts at some date in the distant future, because dark bitter chocolate is used for savoury dishes, never the sweet kind. The difference is amazing: dark chocolate is lacking in sweetness and has a decidedly bitter flavour.

All supermarkets sell thick bars of dark chocolate that are ideal for making hot chocolate, a superb drink on cold days or nights. For many Mallorcans, a traditional way of ending a night out, especially on fiesta days such as at Easter and Christmas, is to have a hot chocolate and an ensaimada in a bar before going home.

These big bars of dark chocolate are suitable for most recipes. You’ll never need a whole one, unless making hot chocolate for several people, but if broken up into smaller pieces and kept in a jar with a tight-fitting lid, it will keep for ages. I kept a chunk for just over a year and it didn’t even take on a rancid taste.

You should keep part of a vanilla pod with the pieces of chocolate in the jar. They will absorb some of the vanilla flavour, thus contributing even more taste when the chocolate is finally used in a savoury dish.

Dark Chocolate

These thick chunks of dark chocolate can also be grated on to the surface of all kinds of desserts. That way you grate the exact amount of chocolate you need and there is no waste.

Catalán rabbit recipe

If you’d like to try a savoury dish that calls for chocolate, this Catalán rabbit recipe (which can also be done with chicken) gives complex sweetish and bitterish flavours.
You will need: a whole plump rabbit or chicken, half litre red wine, glass of sherry, 1 leek, medium onion, large carrot (all finely chopped) 4 cloves of garlic, 3 bay leaves, 2 sprigs thyme, 5 cms piece of cinnamon stick, 3 tbsps flour, one whole garlic bulb, 50 grs dark chocolate, 50 grs almonds, 50 grs pinenuts, glass of brandy, 200 grs flour, and olive oil for frying.

Ask the butcher to cut up the rabbit, season the pieces with salt and pepper to taste, put them into a suitable dish and add the wine, sherry, onion, leek, carrot, 4 cloves garlic, bay leaves, thyme and cinnamon.

Macerate for 24 hours, take out the pieces of rabbit, dry them and coat them with flour before frying in hot olive oil until they are of a nice golden colour. Transfer them to a greixonera, or similar earthenware cooking dish.

Take the vegetables out of the marinade with a slotted ladle, drain them well, and sauté them in the same oil that was used for the rabbit. Let them cook for about 15 minutes and then add three tablespoons of flour. Stir well and brown slightly before adding the strained marinade liquid.

Simmer for another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Put this mixture through a vegetable mill or sieve, and pour it over the rabbit. Cover the greixonera and simmer for 30 minutes.

Separate the cloves of garlic, peel them and poach them in a little stock until they are soft. Put the cooked garlic into a mortar with the almonds, pinenuts and the chocolate and pound until you have a smooth paste. Add the glass of brandy and use the pestle to stir it into the paste.

Add the contents of the mortar to the rabbit and its sauce and stir carefully until everything is well blended. Check to see if it needs extra salt and simmer for another 10 minutes or so.

Schwaiger mousse

This dish can be served on its own but it goes nicely with creamy mashed potatoes or any other root veg purée that takes your fancy. A plain boiled basmati rice to soak up some of the scrummy sauce would also be a good idea.

The big bars of dark chocolate mentioned above are strictly for culinary uses, not for nibbling as you have a mid-morning cup of coffee or watch a movie on television.
But dark chocolate lovers (the true connoisseurs shun milk chocolate) have a huge choice in Palma. As invariably happens, the biggest selection is at El Corte Inglés and the finest Belgian chocolates are in the Club del Gourmet.

At the supermarket of El Corte Inglés you’ll find bars of dark chocolate for eating that range from 72 per cent cocoa to 100 per cent. I enjoy mini tablets of 72 per cent with a cup of coffee, but anything above that figure is too bitter for me and I get no pleasure whatever from it.

Belgian chocolates are among the world’s finest and if you can afford them there’s a splendid selection at the Club del Gourmet including some of the Neuhaus brand — the most illustrious name in the business. It was Neuhaus that invented individual chocolates with delicious fillings.

That was in 1857 when the inventor of individual chocolates was a Brussels chemist who also worked with liquorice and cocoa beans because he made little sweets to help calm coughs and other throat irritations.

In those days, and even as recently as 75 years ago, chemists made up their own ointments, cough mixtures, pills and other medicines. Then, as now, some of the components used in pill had bitter tastes. That’s why most pills nowadays are covered with an artificial sweetener.

But Mr Neuhaus’s way of making his pills more palatable was to give them a thin coating of chocolate — which was very much to his customers’ liking. When Mr Neuhaus’s son realised the customers enjoyed the chocolate coating on the pills, he suggested to his father that he should make a chocolate coating for something that tasted good and not just to mask the taste of the pills’ bitter chemicals.

Dark chocolate Mallorca

Mr Neuhaus did a few experiments and eventually came up with the idea of a small chocolate casing filled with flavoured chocolate. Chocolates as we know them today were born — and they were a huge success with the chemist’s clientele.

These first chocolates were sold in a piece of paper tied up with a ribbon to resemble an old-fashioned money pouch. But Mr Neuhaus’s wife thought the chocolates deserved a better container — and it was her turn to do a few experiments.

That was how the box with individual cavities for the chocolates was invented. This box, which is called a ‘ballotin’ in French, is still very much as Mrs Neuhaus originally designed it.

From that humble and accidental beginning, Neuhaus became one of the world’s top chocolate makers. Their range now runs into dozens of varieties that are sold in more than 60 countries. In some large cities, Neuhaus establishments are so luxurious they look like jewellery shops.

When the company reached its 150th anniversary in 2007, they celebrated in big way and brought out a new range of chocolates that was very special, even by their high standards. These anniversary chocolates were called Rain of Stars because they were created by nine three-star Michelin cooks from all over the world.

The top nine were: Raymond Blanc, the Frenchman who had been living and working in England for many years; Spain’s Pedro Subijana who has a restaurant in the Basque Country; Daniel Boulud of New York City; Frenchmen Guy Savoy and Marc Veyrat; Belgians Pierre Wynants and Peter Goossens; Tateru Yoshino of Tokyo; and Jean-Claude Bourguel of Germany.

The Rain of Stars chocolates were in a box of 18, two of each creation, and the price in 2007 was €36, or €2 per chocolate. That was expensive but it was a unique opportunity to discover in one box what nine three-Michelin star cooks can create with chocolate and flavourings. For connoisseurs, the €36 price of this incredible one-off occasion wasn’t outrageous.

In October of 2007, the 150th anniversary year, Club del Gourmet director Luis Molina arranged a tasting of Neuhaus chocolates at which our hostess was Anabel Leirman, who at that time was the Neuhaus sales manager for Spain and Portugal and was based in Barcelona.

It was Anabel who told us about the beginning of the Neuhaus marque in 1857.
At the tasting we tried five Neuhaus chocolates, two of them from the Rain of Stars box: one by Pedro Subijana and the other by Raymond Blanc, the only self-taught cook with three Michelin stars.

Pedro Subijana was the only one who opted for a white chocolate casing, but filled it with dark chocolate flavoured with bananas and rum. White chocolate is made with the fat of the cocoa bean and has a buttery taste with no traces of cocoa. The the filling added the dark chocolate notes as well as a delicious taste that reminded me of toffee and condensed milk.

The Raymond Blanc creation mixed chocolate with Earl Grey tea, bergamot and lemon in an attempt to reproduce the freshness of the English countryside. But as I bit into his chocolate, I perceived a myriad of superb and memorable taste sensations.

The rush of flavours that cascaded over my palate was the gustatory equivalent of hearing for the first time Mahler’s Symphony No 8, which is nicknamed the Symphony of a Thousand.

It was given that name because of its larger than usual orchestra, an extra brass section, seven vocal soloists, a boys’ choir and two mixed choirs.

Raymond Blanc’s endeavour to cram the freshness of the English countryside into his creation was, quite simply, the best chocolate I have ever tasted.