Monday, October 15, 2012

Rustic Portuguese Chocolate: Salame de Chocolate ao Sol

They say that food photography is best served by natural light.  Whenever I hear I comment like that, my first response (drawing on my inner grouch, my inner skeptic, my inner gloomy existentialist with bourgeois tendencies) is to say "yeah, well, who are they?"

In this case, I can tell you exactly.  They are Food52, hosts of this summer's inspired Recipe Writing Week. Were I to draw entirely on keywords to offer a description, I would say that Food52 is a platform for citizen food writers to find, generate, and share content.  These days, I'm paying attention to food photography, to keywords, and to platforms because I've taken on the role of editor, co-author, and publishing consultant for a book on natural and wholesome eating by my very sunny friend Nikol Burton.

Nikol's is primarily concerned with sensuous, passionate European and Mediterranean recipes—but ones that generally follow the nutritional and biochemical guidelines of the paleo and primal diets.  I'm more of an omnivore, unrestricted in my food choices by region or by ingredients.  But I am observing a startling scientific transformation within myself at the momentit seems that if I'm working for someone else whom I trust, respect, and I believe in, I am far more focused and effective than when I'm working for myself.

How should I act on these findings?  For one thing, perhaps, I should trust, respect, and believe in myself a bit more.  But for another, since focused, effective work generally results in trust and respect from yourself and from others, best to tap straight into that feedback loop with Chocolate in Context.  To that end, I've dusted the blog off recently and made some more time for it, and I plan to give it a new shine in the coming months.  In the processes of straightening up my files, I noticed that I haven't posted too many recipes this year, and those that I have didn't get much attention in the kitchen or love from the camera.

The following recipe I learned during a Portuguese lesson in Évora, Portugal, the minuscule UNESCO World Heritage city where I've been hanging out for the past several weeks.  Even in October, this region is bathed in broad, bright sunlight all day long, making it a perfect place for long lazy meals outside—and for photographing them.  This region of Iberia is so traditional that most recipes still use the same uniform and limited list of ingredients that were available before the great wave of globalization that started with the conquest of the Americas in the 16th century.  Pork, bread, olive oil.  Eggs, figs, honey.  It's not every meal or every day that you spot a tomato or a squash.  And though the first European ports of call for cacao were very near here, you don't see a lot of chocolate either.  "Chocolate Salami," however, is a famous regional dish, literally and very convincingly molded after the cured meat product that Portuguese people have been eating for centuries.

Locals use a ubiquitous basic cookie called the "Maria" for the marbling effect in this dessert.  You could substitute English rich tea biscuits nearly exactly.  There isn't a US equivalent of quite so plain a snack food, but vanilla wafers would probably do the trick.  Or you could order Iberia-brand Marias from a US-based online retailer called TheLatinProducts.

Try presenting the salame de chocolate on a rustic wooden cutting board with "chocolate olives" to complete the illusion.  I found some in Spain, France, and San Francisco.  As soon as you slice it, you'll notice the uncanny resemblance between this dessert and its cured-meat namesake.  And like many traditional Portuguese dishes, it's uncomplicated, rich, and delicious.


Salame de Chocolate

1 package (about 200 grams or 7 ounces) bolachas maria (or any other plain cookie)
25-50 grams (1-2 ounces) hazelnuts

100 grams (3.5 ounces) Claudio Corallo 75%-cacao chocolate (or any other high-cacao-content, high-quality chocolate)
50 grams (just under half a stick) unsalted butter
30 grams (2 tablespoons) cream

1 egg

1-2 tablespoons ruby port
pinch of salt

Place the cookies in a ziplock bag, press out the air, and seal it.  Run a rolling pin over the bag until the cookies are broken up into chunky bits and crumbs (do not pulverize them completely).

Cut the hazelnuts into quarters or roughly chop them, whichever is easier.

Combine the chocolate, cream, and butter in a saucepan placed over low heat—you don't have to bother with a double boiler.  Stir until all of the ingredients are almost melted, then turn off the heat and continue stirring until the mixture is smooth and completely combined.

Add the egg to the chocolate and stir or whisk until combined.
Gently stir in the port and the salt.  Then add the crushed cookies and chopped nuts to the pot and mix. You should have a gooey, chunky mixture.  Allow it to cool for fifteen minutes.

Place a piece of aluminum foil about 18 inches/45 centimeters long on a flat surface.  Working at one end rather than in the middle, mold the chocolate with your hands until it is the size and shape of a salami. Hold the edge of the foil and the salami together in your hands and roll them until the salami is wrapped tightly in the foil.

Refrigerate the chocolate salame for at least three hours.  You can keep it for a few days in the fridge or indefinitely in the freezer.  Before serving, take the salame out and allow it to warm up to just below room temperature.

Serves 10


My Portuguese teacher Sònia Duarte describes salame de chocolate as "económico, saboroso, fácil, e muito versátil."  The versatility no doubt is one of the things that makes it so popular to play with and pass along.  The recipe that I received from Sònia was different from the recipe I made once I was in the kitchen, which was different again from the recipe I have included here.  The original instructions called for cocoa powder, but I immediately went to work with the Corallo chocolate I picked up in Lisbon instead.  That substitution was a delicious success but I used only butter (also following the original recipe) and too much of it, so I adjusted the ingredients here to create more of a ganache, combining the chocolate with cream as well as butter.  I'm interested to know how that adjustment turns out and to find out what other adaptations readers come up with (cacao nibs would add a nice crunch instead of the hazelnuts, I think).  I'd be grateful for your comments.


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