shutterstock_71232085If you’re like us, you’ll use any excuse to talk about chocolate, and the month of February with its holiday of romance is the perfect one!  Valentine’s Day all but begs us to talk about chocolate fudge, chocolate-dipped strawberries and German chocolate cake, but did you know you don’t need to wait for dessert to get your chocolate fix?

Chocolate makes appearances in all sorts of non-dessert entrees these days.  We consulted an expert on the matter, Donya Marie, owner of Donya Marie’s Beyond Chocolate restaurant, formerly the only chocolate restaurant in the U.S. (now closed while Donya Marie enjoys retirement in Ecuador.)  Below, she shares her philosophy on how chocolate can be used as a spice in cooking and provides a special Valentine’s Day recipe. 

By Donya Marie

Chocolate has a magical quality of making everything taste good.  Some ingredient combinations may not allow the “taste” of chocolate to come through, but if the chocolate is taken out, you are then left with an ordinary morsel with an all too usual taste.  It seems to make everything I make better, so why not put chocolate in everything?  Most people don’t realize that chocolate is not just for dessert.  It can suitably and delectably be used in savory dishes as well and yet, it does not end up tasting like a candy bar.  Chocolate brings out other flavors that are normally lost in a recipe, accentuating a dynamic balance of flavors that make the taste buds go wild.

I use chocolate like most people use garlic; in almost everything I make, from vinaigrettes, meat rubs, salsas, BBQ sauces, Bloody Marys, Margaritas, etc.

Several years ago I realized the power of chocolate when I used it in combination with the other flavors.  I started experimenting, tasting, and developing and I’ve been going strong with chocolate in my savory dishes ever since.

Today I want to share with you the last Valentines Day meal I prepared in my restaurant, the only chocolate restaurant in the USA.   Coq Au Vin is a French peasant dish consisting of chicken in red wine.  This dish is superb without the chocolate, and hardly a peasant’s dish, however, the chocolate sets all the flavors on the edge of elegance in your mouth.  The wine is critical.  It is very important to make this with a wine that is a good quality wine to drink…….if you like the particular wine, you have chosen, by the glass then by all means, use it.  If it’s a cheap, young, and bitter wine, your dish will surely taste such as this recipe uses 3 cups of the wine.

Coq Au Vin

8 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

8 to 10 chicken thighs

1 large red onion, roughly chopped

3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch slices

3 Tblsp flour

1 cup chicken stock

3 cups dry red wine (burgundy or cabernet)

3 Tblsp tomato paste

3 tsp fresh thyme

1 tsp dried oregano

1 – lb mushrooms, halved or sliced depending on size

salt and pepper to taste

1 Tblsp dark roasted cocoa

Heat a large covered Dutch oven over med-high heat.  Add the bacon, and stir occasionally until crisp, and most of the fat has been rendered.  Remove the bacon and set aside.

Brown the chicken pieces on both sides-in batches-in the bacon fat (3 to 4 minutes per side to brown).  Remove the chicken to a plate.

Remove all but 4 Tblsp of the fat, and then add the onions and carrots. Stir occasionally until the onions are translucent, about 8 minutes.

Stir in the flour and reduce heat to medium low.  Stir constantly for 4 to 5 minutes.  Add the wine, stock, tomato paste, cocoa, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, and mushrooms.

Increase heat to high.  Bring to a boil while stirring constantly.  Then add the chicken, its accumulated juices, and the bacon.  As soon as the liquid begins to boil again reduce to simmer and cover.

Cook 25 to 30 minutes, until the chicken is tender.

Remove the chicken and cover with foil.  Increase heat to high.  Skim off fat as sauce boils.  When sauce is syrupy, season to taste with salt and pepper.

You can serve this with egg noodles or boiled potatoes and a crusty bread to soak up the juices.

If you love this recipe and want to see more, be sure to visit Donya Marie’s website, or follow her on Twitter @DonyaMaries.