Chefs tapping the bean to perk up recipes

Posted: March 17, 2011

With an espresso bar on every block, our appetite for coffee beverages is clearly insatiable. But while the rest of us are hopped up on latte art, dripped cups, and bean-origin debates, chefs are sneaking coffee into the kitchen and starting to percolate recipes that maximize its culinary potential.

"As an ingredient, coffee is bitter on its own, but if you use it the right way and balance its flavor properly, it can add great depth to food," says David Clouser, chef-owner of Sola BYOB in Bryn Mawr.

The most obvious application for the magic bean's bitterness is in anything sweet. Coffee's affinity with chocolate has been the basis of many a fine dessert, from tiramisu to hot fudge coffee ice cream sundaes. But it can also be used as an almost imperceptible foil where chocolate is the dominant flavor, especially when making something like brownies, with an inexpensive, less complex chocolate.

It can tone down the cloying factor, for a more sophisticated effect: A touch of brewed espresso, coupled with a sprinkling of coffeelike cocoa nibs, creates depth of flavor in the flourless chocolate torte featured in David Lebovitz's book Ready for Dessert (Ten Speed, 2010).

And pastry chefs know that the natural sugars released in a dark roast coffee harmonize with caramel, while the nuttiness of coffee beans is beautifully reiterated in walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, or pecans.

But, in this age of the 31-ouncer, coffee is steadily creeping into savory cooking as well. Brewed coffee can cut the unctuous texture of meats like lamb, duck, beef, or even foie gras. When morning mojo appears in chili, stew, mole, and barbecue sauce, its resonant bitterness is usually offset by sweet and tangy flavors like tomatoes, chili peppers, molasses, and vinegar.

Some chefs use finely ground beans as they would a spice - with a sprinkling here or there to season food. As part of a rub for grilled or roasted meats, coffee can be mixed with cinnamon, fennel, cumin, coriander, and especially toasted chiles. At Matyson, chef Ben Puchowitz has served duck breast with a coffee and ancho chile rub kissed with brown sugar. "I got the idea for this dish when one of my servers brought in a rib-eye rubbed with coffee and ancho chile from a barbecue," Puchowitz says. "It was awesome, so I figured out how to re-create it with duck." The duck is finished with an extra bit of buzz in the form of coffee barbecue sauce. Puchowitz has a similar preparation for chicken.

As a bonus, coffee grounds or crushed beans lend meats a distinct texture, Puchowitz says. "When the skin is rubbed with coffee, it gets nice and crispy." He has also paired coffee with parsnips, scallops, and game birds.

When braising meats, brewed coffee can be used as a flavoring liquid in place of wine or even in conjunction with wine for intense, taste bud-blasting effect, as in the espresso-braised short ribs Clouser serves at Sola.

Once a novelty item, the short ribs have taken on legendary status, surviving many a seasonal menu change. "It's probably one of our best-selling menu items - I can't take it off the menu," Clouser says. "In the five years since we've been here, there have been three separate occasions where people have come off the street to ask me what I'm cooking and make reservations based on the smell of this dish."

In the restaurant, Clouser's recipe requires a two-day soak in a marinade that includes both brewed espresso and coffee from Small World Coffee in Princeton.

Coffee, which has long been used as a natural dye, lends the meat a glossy dark color that only heightens the experience of eating something rich and savory.

Brewed coffee can serve another function in the kitchen: as deglazing liquid. Think red-eye gravy, a dish made by frying ham in a skillet and adding a splash of coffee to scrape up the good browned bits. While this Southern breakfast staple hasn't exactly caught on up North, Momofuku chef David Chang has created a New York variation: red-eye mayonnaise for a ham sandwich. The haunting note of dissolved instant coffee granules echoes the smokiness of prosciutto or sliced country ham. This exotic combination may sound weird to anyone but a card-carrying coffeephile, but it somehow works.

Chefs suggest choosing a coffee for cooking as you would choose a wine for cooking. "The general rule of thumb is to cook with something you would drink," Clouser says. A $100 bag of Panamanian Hacienda la Esmeralda beans might be out of the question for a barbecue rub, but a nice-quality French roast may be worth the investment. Whether it's brewed or grounds, use only the freshest coffee.

Even as eaters are embracing coffee as an ingredient, there are still concerns about its stimulant effects. "We have people that say, 'I want to order the short ribs but I don't want to be up all night,' " Clouser says. "We have to explain that they're not going to get the jitters from dinner."

Espresso-Braised Beef Short Ribs

Makes 6-8 servings

4 cups brewed coffee

4 shots brewed espresso

2 cups red wine

1/4 cup kosher salt

2 teaspoons ground black


1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 tablespoon total chopped

   rosemary and thyme

1 tablespoon Worcestershire


4 pounds beef short ribs

3 cups total chopped onions,

   celery, and carrots

1/2 cup whole peeled garlic


1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon low-sodium soy


1/4 cup Dijon mustard

Olive oil

1/2 cup good quality hard-         smoked bacon

1 cup to 1 quart beef or veal stock, as needed


1. Combine coffee, espresso, wine, salt, pepper, brown sugar, maple syrup, rosemary, thyme, and Worcestershire to create a marinade. In a large container, layer the short ribs with vegetables and garlic. Cover with marinade and refrigerate for at least six hours and up to overnight.

2. Remove meat from marinade and drain on paper towels. Strain vegetables from the marinade and reserve. To the marinade, add vinegar, soy sauce, and mustard, whisking to incorporate.

3. In a large heavy-bottomed pot, add enough oil to just barely coat the bottom. Heat pot until oil ripples, then sear short ribs until they are evenly brown on all sides, working in batches if necessary.

4. Remove short ribs and set aside. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from pot. Heat fat and add bacon. When bacon begins to brown, add reserved vegetables and cook until caramelized.

5. Set seared short ribs on top and add reserved marinade. Bring to a gentle boil and cook mixture for 2 minutes. Then add enough stock to just barely cover the meat.

6. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 3-4 hours, or until the meat is very tender. Be careful not to let it boil. If liquid in pot becomes too low, add a little more stock to keep meat covered.

7. When meat is very tender, remove from pot. At this point, trim off any large pieces of fat if you like. Strain cooking liquid, discarding solids and reserving liquid. If it's too thin, return it to the pot and bring to a boil, reducing until it's the desired thickness. If too thick, add more stock to reach the desired consistency. Serve short ribs on or off the bone with sauce.

- From chef David Clouser, Sola Restaurant

Per serving (based on 8): 665 calories, 71 grams protein, 20 grams carbohydrates, 13 grams sugar, 27 grams fat, 217 milligrams cholesterol, 4,248 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.

Red-Eye Mayonnaise

Makes 1 cup or about 16 one-tablespoon servings

1 large egg, raw or


1 tablespoon instant coffee


2 tablespoons cold water

11/2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon sriracha

1 cup grapeseed or other

   neutral oil


1. Combine the egg, instant coffee, water, vinegar, salt, and sriracha in a food processor or blender (or, if making the mayonnaise by hand, in a mixing bowl). Start the machine (or start whisking) and add the grapeseed oil in a slow, steady stream. Process (or whisk) until the mixture is thick and creamy. Check it for seasoning (it may, but probably won't, need more salt) and use immediately, or store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

2. Serve with thin-sliced country ham or prosciutto on a baguette.

- From Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan

Per serving: 125 calories, no protein, no carbohydrates, no sugar, 14 grams fat, 13 milligrams cholesterol, 79 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber.

Racines Cake

Makes 10-12 servings

Cocoa powder, for preparing

   the pan

10 ounces bittersweet or

   semisweet chocolate,


1/2 cup salted butter, cut into


1 tablespoon freshly brewed


1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 large eggs, separated, at

   room temperature

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons

   granulated sugar

2 tablespoons cocoa nibs


Powdered sugar, for dusting

   the cake (optional)


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan, dust it with a bit of cocoa powder and tap out any excess.

2. In a large, heatproof bowl, combine the chocolate, butter, and espresso. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir occasionally until the mixture is melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

3. In a stand mixer, fitted with the whip attachment, whisk together the egg yolks and the ¼ cup sugar on medium-high speed until the mixture is light and creamy, about 1 minute.

4. In a clean, dry bowl and with a clean whip attachment, whisk the egg whites on low speed until they begin to hold their shape. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and whisk on high speed until the whites hold soft peaks.

5. Fold the beaten egg yolks into the melted chocolate mixture, then fold in half of the whipped egg whites. Fold in the remaining whites, mixing just until there are no visible streaks of egg whites. Don't overfold.

6. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, sprinkle with cocoa nibs, if using, and bake until the cake feels as though it's just barely set in the center, about 25 minutes. It shouldn't feel too firm. Let cool completely. Run a knife around the sides of the cake to help loosen it from the pan. Release the sides of the pan and dust the cake with powdered sugar, if using. The cake is best served the day it's made, although it can be kept for up to 2 days at room temperature.

- From Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz

Per serving (based on 12): 255 calories, 5 grams protein, 21 grams carbohydrates, 19 grams sugar, 17 grams fat, 132 milligrams cholesterol, 108 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.

Espresso Banana Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

2 cups whole-wheat flour

2 teaspoons aluminum-free

   baking powder

1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea


11/4 cups chopped toasted


1 tablespoon fine espresso


6 tablespoons unsalted

   butter, room temperature

3/4 cup natural cane sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup plain yogurt

11/2 cups mashed overripe

   bananas (about 3 large



1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Position the racks low in the oven, and line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.

2. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, ¾ cup of the walnuts, and the espresso powder in a bowl and whisk to combine.

3. In a separate large bowl or a stand mixer, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the sugar and then the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the vanilla, yogurt, and mashed bananas, then briefly and gently mix in the dry ingredients; overmixing will result in tough muffins.

4. Spoon into the prepared muffin tin (an ice-cream scoop works well), top with the remaining ½ cup walnuts, and bake until golden, about 25 minutes. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

- From Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson

Per muffin: 300 calories, 8 grams protein, 36 grams carbohydrates, 15 grams sugar, 15 grams fat, 52 milligrams cholesterol, 149 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.

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