Its still Chocolate Week – just about – so that’s excuse enough for me to make another dish using chocolate. This time it’s a savoury one to follow on from my Chocolate and Chipotle Muffins earlier in the week. Chocolate was a savoury, or rather, bitter beverage long before it took on its sweet associations. We in Europe are still relative newcomers to the cacao bean, unlike the Maya who began cultivating it and revering it three millennia ago. They used it in a tart, spicy, frothy drink which they called Xocoatl which was flavoured with a peppery berry called Achiote, vanilla and chilli. It wasn’t until the Cadbury brothers bought the rights to a milk chocolate drink, developed by Hans Sloane in 1689, that the story of chocolate as a sweet indulgence began. Modern day Mexicans, who descended in part from the Mayans, still use chocolate in many traditional savoury sauces known as ‘mole’ which can feature up to 30 or more ingredients including different types of chilli and spices as well as chocolate.
That’s the short version of the case for using chocolate in savoury dishes. The history of chocolate in its entirety can and does fill many volumes charting its course as a ceremonial, financial and culinary icon since its discovery all that time ago by the Mayans. The sweet chocolate bar is a mere Johnny-Come-Lately in historical terms!
My steak and chocolate dish uses a good dark, bitter chocolate variety – Lindt 90% cocoa works very well – and tamarind, known as the Indian date. This adds an acidic, fruity note. Soft dark brown sugar finishes off the flavour balance.
500g steak – sirloin, rump or fillet if you’re feeling flush
4 squares 90% dark chocolate
3 oz wet tamarind soaked in ½ pint boiling water
1 large tbsp soft dark brown sugar
Salt to taste
2 cloves garlic
Oil to flash fry the steak
Dash of whisky (optional)
Cut the steak into strips about 2 cm width. To make the sauce, sauté the garlic in a little oil until it begins to smell aromatic and then add the tamarind pulp and the water it’s been soaking in. Use a potato masher to make sure the pulp has separated from the tamarind stones. Now add the chocolate, sugar and salt. Bring to the boil and reduce by half, then strain out the tamarind stones and the garlic. Add a dash of whisky, adjust the seasoning and set aside. Heat some oil in a heavy based pan and flash fry the steak strips to your liking (still mooing in my case), quickly spoon into a warm dish and pour over the sauce.