Sunday, September 28, 2008

Balsamic Cocoa Walnuts

I've "pickled" walnuts before in a previous restaurant and have always found them an interesting alternative to regular nut presentations on a cheese plate. My prior chef used to use banyuls  vinaigrette as the source of acidity, but i'm on a tight budget and quite frankly its way to expensive. I had some balsamic on hand as well as a bit of red wine and beaujolais left from prior recipes so i decided to use these as well. I started with a 2 to 1 ratio of wine to balsamic and began reducing it down with a good amount of sugar and a bit of salt. I through in a spice bag consisting of cinnamon stick, star anise, black peppercorn, bay, all spice, a bit of clove, and some dried chili for heat. I reduced this down till i saw those little rumbling bubbles of goodness that generally tell you your sweetened mixture is reaching a syrupy consistency. In went a couple teaspoons of dutched cocoa, which are cocoa nibs that have been treated with alkaline salts to neutralize the acidity and bitterness commonly found in regular cocoa powder. The cocoa powder really thickens the mixture so if you have to thin it out use a bit of water. In went the toasted walnuts. Keep a watch on the mix now and lower the heat to medium as you stir it regularly. You want to eventually cook out the walnuts and help infuse that acidic flavor while thicken the base so that it coats the nuts but doesn't become too tacky. Remember that, as this cools, your liquid will really tighten up so err on the side of a little loose rather then tighter. Taste a few, make sure you get both the acid and sweetness but neither is stronger then the other. A very nice addition to a cheese plate i think. 

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