This Valentine’s Day, delight your sweetie with an intimate dinner for two at home. With the focus on richly romantic red wine, serve a red wine-braised chicken and a showstopping bittersweet chocolate cake with a chocolate-red wine glaze.
Besides being wickedly delicious, both dark chocolate and red wine contain antioxidants that are said to boost endorphins and hopefully increase the mood for love.
Begin your meal with a salad, combining bitter and sweet greens and blood orange slices with a red wine vinegar dressing. Or heat tiny Nicoise olives in a little dish with olive oil and thyme sprigs at 350 degrees for about five minutes. Serve warm with Marcona almonds and goat cheese.
For the main event, infuse chicken thighs with the berry-rich tones of red wine and earthy porcini mushrooms. Serve with steamed slender green beans and buttered tiny boiled potatoes to round out the meal.
For cooking and to serve with the meal, pinot noir is a great way to go. I used an inexpensive pinot for cooking, but you’ll want to pour something special with dinner, not break-the-bank special, just a step up.
Former Post-Gazette wine columnist Elizabeth Downer explained why red wine, especially pinot, works in these dishes and as the accompanying wine.
“The pinot grape is full of red fruit flavors, of cherries and raspberries, and the grape has a lot less tannin — bitter astringency — so it complements both the chicken and enhances the chocolate glaze on the cake,” she said.
For drinking, she said, “I’d choose a pinot from Chile or Argentina or one from Europe. My top choice is a true red Burgundy from France. Burgundy is the historic home of the grape, where the climate and soil are considered optimal. The wine’s style is classic, bright with red fruits and restrained with a light elegance.”
Another match for cooking and serving with dinner and for drinks is a Beaujolais, she said. “It lends itself to being served slightly chilled, just 30 minutes before serving, bringing out the fruity qualities of the Gamay grape.”
What to serve with dessert? “Chocolate and wine can make for a rather difficult pairing,” said Amy Rosenfield, who owns Mon Aimee Chocolat in the Strip District. “They can work beautifully together, or they can clash significantly as they’re both acidic.”
Both women agreed that the chocolate cake, made with deeply flavored bittersweet chocolate, needed a dessert wine with some sweetness. “A Madeira or a tawny Port, both fortified wines made from red grapes, would complement the sweetness of the chocolate,” Ms. Downer said.
Her favorite, though, would be a Banyuls from southwest France. “It’s divine with chocolate, the classic pairing.”
What to do with any leftover wine? “Pour it into a smaller bottle, put a cork in it and drink it up quickly,” Ms. Downer said.
Miriam Rubin: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @mmmrubin.
Braised Chicken Thighs in Red Wine with Porcini
It’s best to use dried porcini mushrooms along with good-quality chicken for this recipe.
4 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 fresh bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
About 1 cup red wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Blot chicken dry on both sides with paper towel and let air-dry on folded sheet of paper towel while soaking mushrooms.
Put mushrooms in small bowl. Pour over 1 cup boiling water and let stand 30 to 40 minutes until softened.
Melt butter in heavy, deep skillet over medium heat. Add bay leaves and rosemary. Swirl herbs in butter, stewing them for a minute to perfume butter.
Put chicken skin side down in hot butter. Cook about 5 minutes, until well browned and no longer sticking to pan.
Meanwhile, remove rehydrated mushrooms from liquid, squeezing them a little to release moisture; set aside. Place paper coffee filter in a holder and pour mushroom liquid through it to remove grit, leaving behind the last ¼ cup liquid. Pour strained mushroom liquid into 2-cup measure; add enough red wine to measure 1½ cups.
When chicken is golden, if there’s excess fat in pan, with spoon, remove all but about 2 tablespoons. Carefully pour in wine mixture. Deglaze pan, stirring with wooden spoon to mix browned bits into the sauce. Add reserved mushrooms; season with salt and pepper to taste.
Cook gently, uncovered, over medium-low heat, turning chicken occasionally for 15 minutes. Then cover and cook 15 to 20 more minutes, until chicken is tender and cooked through. If sauce is too thin, simmer, uncovered for a few minutes. Discard bay leaves.
Put chicken on platter. Tip pan and spoon off excess fat or pour sauce through fat separator. Serve chicken with sauce.
Makes 2 to 4 servings.
— Adapted from “Good Meat: The Complete Guide to Sourcing and Cooking Sustainable Meat” by Deborah Krasner (Stewart, Tabori and Chang; 2010)
Darkest Chocolate Cake With Red Wine Glaze
Make the cake a day ahead. Use excellent chocolate, such as Guittard couverture or baking bars with 72% to 64% cacao. The lower percentage makes a slightly sweeter cake.
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, around 70% cacao, chopped
1 cup unsalted butter, cut up
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup all-purpose flour, spooned into cup and leveled off
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, around 70% cacao, chopped
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut up
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup red wine, such as pinot noir
For the cake: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan.
Heat chocolate, butter and granulated sugar in heatproof bowl over saucepan of simmering water (bowl should not touch water), stirring until chocolate is nearly melted. Remove from heat; stir until melted. Cool completely. Transfer to electric mixer bowl with whisk attachment.
On medium speed, beat in eggs one at a time, beating to blend after each. Beat about 2 more minutes, until mixture is thick, smooth and lighter in color. On low speed, mix in flour and salt; finish mixing by hand. Scrape into prepared pan.
Bake until top feels firm and edges are slightly darkened, 50 to 60 minutes. Rely on visual cues; a toothpick inserted into cake will come out dry before the cake is truly done. Cool completely in pan on wire rack.
For the glaze: Heat chocolate, butter and salt in heatproof bowl set over saucepan of simmer water (bowl should not touch water), stirring until chocolate is melted. Whisk in powdered sugar (it may tighten up). Remove from heat.
Meanwhile, bring wine just to boil in small saucepan. Whisk wine into chocolate. Let cool until slightly thickened and spatula leaves a trail when stirring.
Loosen cake pan sides and remove pan bottom. Place cake on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Pour glaze over cake; spread across top and over edges with offset metal spatula. Let stand until glaze is set. Refrigerate up to 2 days, until ready to serve. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Makes 1 cake.
— Adapted from “Bon Appetit.com” recipe from Rick and Michael Mast