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Coffee has a long history as an ingredient in dessert dishes. It seems uniquely suited to being paired with delicious creamy ingredients in coffee ice cream and coffee cream, and it’s a perfect foil for chocolate. Who doesn’t love mocha creme frosting on chocolate cake? But when it comes to using coffee in savory dishes, few chefs and even fewer home cooks have even begun to explore the possibilities and the complexities of using coffee as an ingredient.
Here are some tips and ideas for using coffee as an ingredient in savory dishes from some of the top chefs and gourmets in the country.
When coffee was first introduced in Western countries, it was sometimes called the wine of Islam. The comparison is a good one. Wine connoisseurs will tell you that wine has over 600 unique flavors that can be distinguished, and the various blends of those flavors are what give each bottle its own unique essence. Coffee cuppers can identify 900 unique flavors in coffee – a full third more flavor than those found in wine. Cooking with wine, and pairing wine with specific foods to best bring out the flavors of both food and wine is a respected art. Isn’t it time we started giving the same regard to coffee?
Carry the analogy to wine a step further when trying to figure out how to use coffee in savory dishes. Coffee is complex, with as many undertones and overtones as fine wines. In general, though, the flavor of coffee is strong, and it needs to be married with strong flavors that can stand up to it. That means using dark meats, game, beef and pork, bacon and ham. Use coffee to bring out the flavors of tomato sauce and barbecue rubs. Think of coffee as a spice in your cooking rather than as a beverage with which to end your meals.
We easily understand that there are different kinds of wine, but have yet to extend that same intuitive understanding to coffee. Even the most novice of cooks knows that you serve red wine with red meat and strongly flavored food, and serve more delicately flavored white wines with fish and poultry. The same holds true for coffee, in more ways than one. Dark-roasted coffees and strongly brewed coffees pair well with beef and other red meats where the dark, rich flavors won’t overpower the flavor of the food. Lighter roasts can enhance the flavor of poultry and seafood without overwhelming the natural flavors.
The darkness of the roast and the strength of the brew make a difference in the flavor of the coffee and the foods with which it should be paired, but as you get more experienced in cooking with coffee, you’ll also start to consider the variety of coffee when choosing beans to use with particular recipes. Ethiopian blends, for example, are strong and earthy with fruity and wine-flavored undertones. The darker the roast, the less those subtle differences matter, but if you use lighter roasted coffees, you can play with the floral and fruit flavors of the coffee in the same way that you choose a particular wine for your favorite spaghetti sauce.
Cooking with coffee can be as simple as brewing a strong cuppa joe to toss in with ham scrapings for a Southern redeye gravy, or as complex as blending three kinds of coffee beans with hickory for smoking scallops. Stir coffee into chili or use ground coffee with spices to use as a rub for jerked chicken, infuse oil with coffee beans or marinate beef in coffee with spices. Let coffee be more than your morning eye-opener and open your eyes to the many flavors that coffee can bring to your entire repertoire of recipes.
Check out some of these recipes and coffee specialty sites for recipes and more tips on cooking with coffee.
Check out recipes offered by Van Houtte Coffee, one of North America’s leading purveyors of gourmet coffees. Recipes include Bistro Braised Beef with Shiitake Mushrooms and Kenya and Cardamom Chicken
Emeril’s Cooking with Coffee
What does celebrity chef Emeril do with coffee? How about Coffee and Nocello Glazed Duck and Baby Back Ribs with Coffee Bourbon Barbecue Sauce?
Busy Moms Recipes
How about something simple enough to cook up for the working mom? Check out recipes that kids will love in the Busy Moms Recipes newsletter.
Aabree Coffee Recipes
Aabree is a leading vendor of high-quality coffee machines and accessories. Recipes include Espresso Roast Chicken and Vegetables and Pepper Coffee Barbecue Sauce that’s ideal for grilling meats or seafood.