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Chef Anita Lo's savory dish puts a new twist on the season's infamous sweet.
February's a month when tradition dictates that you bring chocolate home to your sweetheart. And it's no wonder -- the stuff is chock-full of the "love chemical" phenylethylamine and the stimulants theobromine and caffeine, and it's been linked to fertility since the days of the Aztecs. But we tend to think of chocolate only as a confection. What about its other savory applications? Most dark chocolates -- with their earthy, spicy notes -- are perfect in a wintry appetizer or main course. At right I've listed one of my favorite chocolate recipes, which takes less than 30 minutes to prepare. The richness of the chocolate balances the relatively lean chicken breast meat. The paprika, pepper, and orange echo the chocolate's inherent sweet spice, and the sweet potato rounds out its earthiness. Even if you're not yet ready to trade your Viagra in for Valrhona, you'll be that much closer to keeping your sweetheart in the style to which he or she is accustomed.
Ain't We a Pair? Luxe and bargain wines to complete your romantic meal.
Penner-ash Seven Springs Vineyard 2006, Willamette Valley, Ore.This pinot noir by superstar vintner Lynn Penner-Ash is full and rich with lush, deep berry fruit flavors that will complement the chocolate, and the milder tannins won't fight the spice. It's worth the $55 splurge.
Bowen Estate Shiraz 2004, Coonawarra, AustraliaThis syrah (the grape is called "shiraz" Down Under) made by Emma Bowen has deep plum fruit notes with a touch of smoke and spice. The flavors will sidle up nicely to the sweet chili-chocolate of the chicken. Under $30.
RECIPE Pan-roasted chicken with sweet potatoes and spiced chocolate.Ingredients: 2 six-ounce chicken breasts, boneless, skin on 3 tablespoons oil, divided 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into L-inch-thick rounds 1 tablespoon butter 1 teaspoon shallot, chopped 1 heaping tablespoon sweet paprika 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste 1 pinch cinnamon 1 pinch orange zest 1/2 cup chicken stock 1 ounce extra-bitter chocolate, chopped Salt and pepper
Method: Preheat an oven to 500 degrees. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel and season on both sides liberally with salt and pepper. Heat a saute pan on high and then add one tablespoon oil. When the oil is just smoking, add the chicken skin-side down. Leave on the flame for one minute, then place in the oven. Heat another saute pan on high. Add two tablespoons oil, then the butter, and swirl. Add the sweet potatoes in one layer, season with salt and pepper, then turn and season other side. Place pan in the oven with the chicken. When the chicken is browned and crispy (about eight minutes), turn chicken and sweet potatoes and finish the cooking on the other side. Remove the chicken to a warm plate, pour off excess grease, and add the shallots to pan and stir. Add the spices and stir again, then add the zest and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and continue cooking until liquid is reduced by half, then remove from heat and whisk in the chocolate. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve the chicken breast on top of the sweet potatoes, ringed with the sauce, and if desired, decorate the plate with a few drops of chive oil.
Most fine-dining restaurant recipes are long, full of complicated techniques, and require ingredients that can't be found in your dictionary, much less at your local grocery store. This is why a restaurant meal costs so much more than cooking at home. But there are some very simple tricks a home cook can employ to dress a dish in restaurant-quality drag, like this chive oil. Blanch a half cup of roughly chopped chives by boiling them in salted water for one minute, draining, and refreshing under cold water. Squeeze them dry and place in a blender with a quarter cup of oil and a healthy pinch of salt and blend until smooth. If you want to get fancy, you can strain the results through a fine-mesh sieve, but it isn't necessary. Then use sparingly: A few drops on a white or clear glass plate will brighten any presentation and give it a professional look. Use a basting brush to paint a verdant swath on your plate palette, or a plastic squeeze bottle for pinpoint precision.
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