Dining with Joe...
Cooking with Coffee
by Kate Heyhoe
About ten years ago I gave up drinking coffee. Now I just eat it.
I don't mean stuffing spoonfuls of the beans, whole or ground, in my mouth. I'm talking about using coffee as a seasoning, finely ground or freshly brewed. Southerners have long known that coffee adds a deep, smoky body to barbecue sauce, and their famous "red-eye gravy" is a signature dish of truck-stops and diners from Albuquerque to Augusta.
If the thought of eating coffee sounds weird to you, don't be such a drip—coffee lends an unusual yet pleasant and aromatic note to many foods, including ones that aren't meant for dessert.
What do foods cooked in coffee taste like? If you use coffee judiciously, savory dishes won't taste like coffee at all. But they will retain the unique, robust depth of flavor that characterizes coffee—along with pungent, roasted undertones and hints of acidity. of course, desserts are meant to let the full coffee flavor shine through, so their ingredients are designed to promote the coffee taste.
What savory ingredients taste best cooked with coffee? Powerful foods—there's nothing subtle about the taste of coffee. Beef, lamb, pork and game. Dark meat fowl, even chicken thighs, can stand up solidly against a mild brew. Tomato sauces. Red chiles. Sweet spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, anise, ginger. Oranges, apricots, raisins, pears. Hazelnuts, almonds, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds. Rye flour, stone-ground whole wheat flour, buckwheat flour. Meaty mushrooms. Sweet potatoes. Soy sauce, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce. Red wine.
How should coffee be prepared? It depends on the recipe. Mostly you want to brew up a rich strong cuppa joe, single or double strength, but sometimes just using the ground beans as a spice rub is called for. Espresso packs the most concentrated flavor in very little liquid, so it's often used for baked goods. Pair strongly brewed coffee with red meats, and milder coffee with fowl and fruit. Consider the inherent flavors in a particular bean, just as you do when picking the right wine for cooking: fruity, dusky, acid, mellow, spicy, sweet...Let the coffee's flavor either contrast or support the other flavors in the dish. On the other hand, cooking is not an exact science. If all you have at home is a Mocha-Java blend, then use it. Likely no one will know but you, unless they're coffee-cookery maniacs.
Setting the Coffee Table
Given the Starbucking of America, I expect the next hip trend for patrons sporting itty-bitty glasses and black clothing to be the passion for coffee cookery. Imagine encountering all-coffee menus like this one:
Jumpy Mexican Mocha Mole with Chips
Truck-Stop Kona Kebabs
Antigua-Apricot Glazed Chicken Thighs
Grilled Java Steak with Cajun Fries
Mocha Meatloaf with Smashed Spuds and Red-Eye Gravy
Buzzy Blue Mountain Chili
Molokai Smoked Sausage and Pineapple-Rice Volcanoes
Sumatran Stir-Fried Duck in Hoisin Sauce
Juicy Jamaican-Bean Jerk Burgers
Java-Rye Rolls with Caraway and Onion
Whole-Grain Scones with Dominican Nibs
Franz Kafka Kaffe Cake with Cinnamon-Latte Cream
Flaming Bananas in Brazilian-Rum Glaze
High-Octane Hot Cakes with Espresso-Orange Syrup
Seattle Mud Pie
Beverages, of course, would include the full range of lattes, frappes, 'chino's and vino's. Pick your bean or your vintage, served by the glass.
Stirring the Pot from the Grounds Up
You may think I'm running on half-caff here, but in truth, all of the menu items above are real dishes made with real coffee. and yowzers, do they perk up a meal!
To take a shot at cooking with coffee, give the old grinder a whir and try one of the recipes below. You'll be amazed at just how good coffee can taste, even if you don't drink the stuff.
To stir up an old cliché, "Wake up—and eat the coffee!"
Kate's Global Kitchen for April, 2001:
Copyright © 2001, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created April 2001