A little chocolate is like a love affair — an occasional sweet release that lightens the spirit. —Linda Solegato
If chocolate is a lover, it’s not monogamous. Chocolate shares itself easily with most fruits, nuts, some legumes, tea wine and even flowers.
Mindy Fong, owner and proprietor of Jade Chocolates in San Francisco, brings a true pan-Asian flair to her confections. Many chocolatiers pair their treats with “safe” Asian ingredients, such as green tea, jasmine tea and ginger.
Fong encourages her chocolates to share themselves with more exotic Asian partners such as dried mangoes (sometimes shaped like orchids), roasted sesame seeds, roasted brown rice, lemongrass, tamari-soaked almonds, lapang souchong tea and ylang ylang flowers.
I had a chance to talk to her recently at Napa Chocolate Salon, held in the upper Napa Valley town of Yountville. The venue was just a few blocks from the world-famous Bouchon Bakery, owned by chef Thomas Keller of French Laundry acclaim.
What foods or flavors wouldn’t Fong mix with chocolate?
“Chocolate is basic, like black and white,” she replied. “It complements many different flavors.”
Just as I suspected: Chocolate is a sensory swinger, freely giving out love to everyone.
Jade Chocolate’s chocolate-covered edamame (soybeans) seemed like odd match-making. Fong dry-roasts the edamame, bathes them in bittersweet chocolate then dusts on bittersweet chocolate powder and sea salt.
I was expecting a “beany” taste, but I didn’t detect it. When edamame is roasted, the legumes taste similar to a peanut but more subtle, she told me. I now concur. Yet the inside of her enhanced edamame had more crunch than I’d expect from a chocolate-covered roasted peanut.
Two kinds of flavors, Fong said, don’t complement chocolate well:
- “Delicate flavors.”
- Flavors with a similar “earthy” profile to chocolate.
Pu-er tea, she pointed out, has a strong “earthy” flavor that muddies the flavor of any variety of chocolate.
Korea has its own perplexing pairing. Kimchi chocolate has a zippy liquid center. If spicy pickled cabbage spiked with hints of garlic, ginger and fish sauce can tango with chocolate, then just about anything else can do so too.
Chocolate is most seductive, it seems, when it is matched with complementary but equally strong flavors, just as people are. It may not be a choosy lover, but chocolate certainly performs well on play dates.