Flavor Alchemy

Relating the journey through the science and art of cooking.

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TGRWT is a food blogging event started by Martin Lersch. The idea is to develop a new recipe using ingredients that theory predicts should go together well, but for which there may be few or no recipes. The ingredients for the TGRWT #5 event are beef and chocolate and it is being hosted by Le Petite Boulanger.

At first, I thought the challenge simple, after all mole uses beef and chocolate. I was wrong. Starting with cooked beef and unsweetened chocolate, I tried adding a variety of flavors to create something interesting. That turned out a disaster. I then decided to use the chocolate as a condiment. I came up with Koko Keebee and its variant, the Koko Keebee Kabab. And for something simple, the Soy-Cocoa Sauce worked really well with steaks.

While I was trying to come up with a recipe, I searched several recipe archives for something that would combine beef and chocolate. I found a few chiles and moles, which are reproduced with many variations on the net, but the Catalan beef stew and brownie recipe with beef I found quite novel. Has anyone made them?

Koko Keebee

This is a variation of kibbeh, a dish popular in the Eastern Mediterranean region. You will need:

  • 90g of bulgur (1/2 cup)
  • 1 medium onion (130g chopped)
  • 40g of bittersweet chocolate (1.5 oz)
  • 1/2 cup of currant raisins
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 450g of lean ground beef (1 lb)
  • 15g pine nuts (1 1/2 tablespoon)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

1 Soak the bulgur in water for at least an hour. I put mine in a plastic container, poured in a cup and a half of water, covered the container and left in the refrigerator for a day. The bulgur is cooked wheat that has been dried out, so all it needs is to re-absorb some water.

2 Preheat the oven to 375F (190C).

3 Chop the onion into small cubes and put in a bowl large enough to hold the meat and the bulgur.

4 Grate the chocolate and add it to the bowl. If the chocolate is one big block, shave thin slices off the block. Small pieces will melt once the meat is cooked.

5 Chop the raisins a bit and add them to the bowl. I used currants because they are a little more tart than regular raisins. If you do not have currants, use regular raisins. They are in the recipe for added sweetness.

6 Strain the bulgur through a fine mesh sieve and let it drip a few minutes. Add to the bowl.

7 Oil a square 8in x 8in backing dish with olive oil.

8 Add the drained bulgur, salt, and beef to the bowl and mix with your hands until uniform, two to four minutes. Press the mixture into the oiled dish and even the surface. With a knife score the diamond-shaped cutting pattern on the surface. Decorate each piece with a few pine nuts in the shape of a flower. Drizzle (or spray if you have a Misto) the top with olive oil.

9 Bake for 30 minutes. Even if your ground meat was never frozen, you may get some liquid accumulating in the bottom of the dish. Once you remove the dish, cover it with aluminum foil and let cool on a rack. The liquid will percolate back into the baked meat pie. Serve warm but not hot.

The Koko Keebee Kabab was a variation that I tried on the grill. It used 1/3 cup bulgur and no raisins. Instead of baking, I made small patties (about 2.5in in diameter) and cooked them on the grill for about 3 minutes on each side. They are mini burgers. But, shame on me, I took no photos.

Soy-Cocoa Sauce

This sauce takes only a few minutes to make. The flavor of the chocolate just blends in with the other ingredients. I have now made it a few times to accompany steaks, and it always runs short. You will need:

  • 100g of bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa)
  • 100ml of water (1/2 a cup)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 teaspoon of soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt

Chocolate for the sauce

1 Chop the onion into small pieces. Put into a bowl and slowly pour in the soy sauce until the onion stops absorbing it. I do it straight from the bottle and I have measured it to be 1 teaspoon. I use the low salt variety.

2 Put the chocolate and the water in a saucepan and heat on medium until the chocolate melts. The water prevents the chocolate from burning.

3 Add the onion soaked in soy sauce and the salt to the saucepan. Continue mixing under medium heat for three minutes, to cook the onion a bit. Keep the heat low enough so it does not boil.

4 Serve the sauce over a steak, as a side gravy, or over flank steak slices.

The soy sauce seems to take the bite out of the onion. I often use the combination when raw onions are called for in a recipe. The chocolate blended so well with the onions and salt that it felt like a gravy.

Did it work?

The difficulty in combining the flavors seems to be how to mask the bitterness of the chocolate. This is traditionally done with milk and sugar, but sugar with beef does not seem right, so one has to search for a different solution. The kibbeh uses the starch from the bulgur and the raisins, which also add some tartness. In the soy-cocoa sauce the bitterness is masked in a way I don’t quite understand. The salt also helps in both recipes.

To convey how I felt about the dishes, I made up a scale. A rating of C means I can eat it (maybe not others) but if I were to cook it again I would change the recipe; a B rating means I will cook it again and the family ate it; and an A rating that I would serve it to a chef coming over for dinner. On this scale I would rate the Koko Keebee a B (my wife, who does not like beef, had the left overs the next day) and the Soy-Cocoa Sauce an A. I also made a few Ds and Fs (these happen often, but I will spare you the official description)


The disasters were educational. There is a large set of flavor combinations, most are unpalatable. I seem to have stumbled on many. When I took up the challenge I thought I would create a savory dish and a sweet dish. To explore possible flavor combinations I started out with what I felt was an equal strength combination: equal amounts, by weight, of chocolate and beef at the strengths one tends to eat them separately. In a pan I mixed 125 ml of boiling water, 8g of unsweetened cocoa powder, and 125g of ground beef. (For 250ml of water or milk one would have used 16g of chocolate.) I then reheated the mixture in the pan, stirring constantly and not letting the temperature go above 70 Celsius. After four minutes I removed it from the stove top and puréed it in a food processor. The resulting porridge was used as a base in further experiments.

I tried adding sugar, salt, olive oil, lemon, and powdered milk in different combinations trying to achieve a palatable flavor. The bitterness of the cocoa and the boiled beef smell dominated the flavor of the porridge. I was not able to create anything useful. The best of the lot was olive oil with a bit of salt. I concluded that either beef or chocolate would have to dominate. The experimentation left me sick the rest of the day. I posted on my woes on Amrita’s blog and she gave me some encouragement. Thanks Amrita. The next day I tried the Koko Keebee Kababs and later the other recipes.

Beef and chocolate do go well together, in the right proportions.

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Reader Comments (5)

wow, you're definitely not a quitter. good job! that recipe got me really interested!

September 3, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterEvelin

Even if your ground meat was never frozen, you may get some liquid accumulating in the bottom of the dish. Once you remove the dish, cover it with aluminum foil and let cool on a rack. The liquid will percolate back into the baked meat pie.

Can you explain that?

Btw I aped your Koko Keebee today. More or less.

September 5, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterM.

When I was making the dish, after the cooking time of 30 minutes there was some water at the bottom of the dish. Rather than remove the meat from the dish, I covered the dish with aluminum foil and set it on a cooling rack. When I came back to it an hour later, the liquid was gone. That was too much liquid to have evaporated from a covered dish (although I could have misjudged), so I'm guessing that the bulgur in the dish re-absorbed the liquid.

Meat is 75% water. Some of it oozes out whenever meat is cooked. As meat is heated, water that is stuck to those long molecules (myosin + actin) inside muscle cells gets squeezed out. As the meat is heated even more the water stuck to the proteins outside muscle cells gets squeezed. Meat that has been frozen will loose water as it thaws because the freezing process create ice crystals that break through muscle cells and surrounding material creating passages for the water. There is a tendency to expect water from meat that has been frozen, but not from fresh meat. (The little I know about meat cooking I learned from McGee's book.)

If I had cooked the dish at a lower temperature, so that most of the dish never reached 60 C, it may have oozed less liquid. I'll have to try next time. Right now, my wife has banned me from further experimenting with meat and chocolate in the kitchen.

Ape away (I have to put a Creative Commons sign somewhere on this site). Traditional kibbeh (my mom's) with this much beef would also have 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and about 4 ounces of tomato sauce.

September 6, 2007 | Registered CommenterPapin


September 6, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterM.

Wow. This is very interesting. I've never thought about combining beef and chocolate. I didn't even realize that this was a popular thing in other cultures. I'll have to try this recipe some time. I wonder if I can get my kids to eat it... maybe since it has chocolate in it. LOL. Thanks for sharing!

Budget Recipes and Crafts

February 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHope
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