Change brewing: cooking with coffee

Change brewing: cooking with coffee

by Great British Chefs 24 November 2015

We take a look at how coffee can be used in savoury recipes to highlight other ingredients and add a depth of flavour to your favourite dishes.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Coffee is regularly used in desserts, but restaurant chefs and home cooks alike are now using the beans in other ways, specifically when marinating, curing and preserving.

If you think about the way coffee is made – roasting fresh beans to unlock their flavour – it’s easy to see how much depth and complexity you have access to once it’s ground. In the days of cowboys and frontier towns, when food was scarce, coffee was often used as a base stock to add flavour to and cook dried ingredients. Nowadays, coffee in liquid form is used in much the same way, while the ground beans are treated like spices.

Which bean?

With coffee, a little goes a long way. If you’re too heavy-handed its strong, bitter flavour can easily overpower a dish. If you were to try most dishes made with coffee, you shouldn’t actually be able to taste it – it’s used to add a depth of flavour or highlight other ingredients, rather than compete with them.

It’s important to think about which coffee bean variety you want to use, too, as they contain all sorts of complex flavours. Milder coffees are more suited to delicate ingredients, whereas a strong roast can stand up to more full-flavoured foods.

In a savoury context, the roasted flavour of coffee works well with red meats and many Mexican dishes also include coffee in their ingredients; beef chilli con carne or a chicken mole, for example, usually have a cup of coffee poured into the sauce. Try Rosana McPhee’s Steak in chocolate coffee sauce to see how well a few shots of espresso can complement meat.

Fresh ideas

One of the most effective methods of introducing coffee to a dish without a sauce is in a marinade. Because of its acidic nature, coffee acts as a tenderiser (much like lemon juice or wine), changing the texture of meat as well as the flavour. This is also why it’s used in curing – either as a liquid in brines or freshly ground beans in salt rubs – like in this recipe for coffee-cured foie gras. When using coffee in curing, full-flavoured meat works best; white fish is too delicate and subtle to stand up against the strong, bitter flavours, but coffee and salmon go together surprisingly well. Incorporating freshly brewed coffee into preserves also produces delicious flavour combinations. A spoonful of coffee-infused onion chutney, for example, goes perfectly with cold cuts, and using a mild, zesty coffee when making marmalade really brings out the bittersweet flavours. Using it in lieu of vegetable stock in gravies, stews and casseroles adds an interesting twist, while including a few spoonfuls of ground beans into your home-made spice rubs lends an earthy, roasted flavour to meat. The easiest way to get experimenting, however, is to replace the stock or water needed in your favourite recipe with freshly brewed coffee instead; it could be the key to unlocking its full flavour.

Try grinding coffee beans and adding them to a spice rub