What’s your flavour?

We know salt, or­ange and cof­fee all taste great with choco­late. But what about laven­der or rose­mary? It’s time to push your palate

The Sunday Telegraph - Stella - - GET THE LOOK -

Amid the wood pan­elling, an­cient paint­ings and glit­ter­ing chan­de­liers of the Span­ish Em­bassy, waiters carry trays of skinny, olive-oil-drenched toast smeared with choco­late ganache and sprin­kled with salt. This was 2008, Fer­ran Adrià was do­ing the food, and the choco­late-salt-olive-oil combo was con­sid­ered risqué. Pair­ing choco­late with salt – as is the way when things be­come fash­ion­able – has now moved from risqué to passé. We were aware of the old­est ‘unusual’ pair­ing, that of choco­late and chilli (as used in Mex­i­can cook­ing) but salt seemed so op­pos­ing – since salt is the very def­i­ni­tion of savouri­ness – that the com­bi­na­tion en­cour­aged us to visit wilder shores. Cho­co­latier Paul A Young has en­thused about choco­late and cheese (some­thing my chil­dren, who munch ched­dar on choco­late di­ges­tives, get) and even with black pud­ding and Mar­mite. I haven’t gone that far but I have thought, again, about what goes with choco­late and why.

The choco­late and salt thing was ob­vi­ous once you tasted it (we love con­trast, and salt is the great ‘height­ener’ of flavour). It was adding olive oil that was a revelation (though it was well known in Spain), bring­ing out and echo­ing both the choco­late’s fruiti­ness and its acid­ity, en­cour­ag­ing its rich­ness to blos­som in the most glo­ri­ously mouth-fill­ing way. That is what is so riv­et­ing about blend­ing flavours: it isn’t just ‘putting things to­gether’, it’s about each in­gre­di­ent bring­ing out some­thing in the other, so that you end up with a com­bi­na­tion that is more than the sum of its parts. When ex­plor­ing flavour po­ten­tial, I of­ten look at pair­ings that I know work – choco­late and or­ange, or choco­late and le­mon, for ex­am­ple – and go from there. Or­ange works with car­damom, le­mon works with rose­mary, so do car­damom and rose­mary also work with choco­late? They do. If rose­mary – with its resinous tones – works, why not laven­der? Flavours are multi-faceted. Choco­late isn’t just choco­latey: it can taste bit­ter, like cof­fee; tart and fruity like red berries, and cit­rusy. When you pair flavours you are of­ten bring­ing out com­po­nents of what seem like very dif­fer­ent in­gre­di­ents, but that ac­tu­ally have sim­i­lar notes.

Some com­bi­na­tions are more ob­vi­ous than oth­ers. I used to al­ways pair deep, dark flavours – es­pe­cially cof­fee – with choco­late. An espresso with bit­ter to­bacco tones and a thin sliver of choco­late cake is one of my favourite desserts. (It also makes me feel thin and so­phis­ti­cated and as if I’m idling around in some smoky bar, so it works on my imag­i­na­tion as well as my palate.) The com­bi­na­tions here are not rev­o­lu­tion­ary but they aren’t ob­vi­ous. Choco­late is a great in­gre­di­ent to spin off. You think it just works with or­ange, rasp­ber­ries and cof­fee? Think again.

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