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Cooking Tips

Why You Should Shave Chocolate onto Your Salad

One test cook's review: "Holy s***, this is good."

Published Apr. 28, 2021.

There were lots of aha moments while we were developing The Complete Salad Cookbook, but using chopped chocolate in our Pinto Bean, Ancho, and Beef Salad with Pickled Poblanos was one of our favorites.

“I just remember taking my first bite and thinking, ‘Holy s***, this is good,’” recalled Sam Block, the test cook who developed the recipe.

It might seem unusual to see chocolate in a salad, but this one was inspired by Mexican cuisine, in which chocolate is a staple for savory dishes. According to Sam, the chocolate added a welcome bitterness to the full-flavored salad. It perked everything up, like when you sprinkle flake sea salt over a perfectly cooked steak.

“If you served it without telling anyone there was chocolate on it, they wouldn’t know,” she said. “It just helps boost all the flavors.”

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Chocolate has a place in other salads, too. But as you might expect, incorporating it isn’t as simple as crumbling your favorite chocolate bar over some leafy greens. 

For one, chocolate works best in bold-flavored salads that already have a lot of other stuff going on. In Sam’s pinto bean and beef salad, so many other flavors were already present—in the sweet-and-sour pickled poblanos, the salty cotija, the fatty steak, the spicy ancho chile powder—so the bitter chocolate rounded it all out. If you have a salad with a variety of strong flavors, try incorporating it.

As for the type of chocolate, Sam recommends sticking with unsweetened chocolate or chocolate with a high cacao percentage. You’re going for bitterness, not sweetness, so don’t go any lower than 80 percent. That means no milk or white chocolate, and skip the cocoa powder—it has a dustiness that would be off-putting.

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How you prepare the chocolate matters, too. You don’t want to eat chunks of unsweetened chocolate, so grate it into elegant flakes using a rasp-style grater or chop it fine. If you’re going the chopping route, start at the corner of the bar instead of trying to chop it crosswise. This will give you smaller shavings and keep the rest of the bar intact, since you need only a small amount. (The aforementioned pinto bean and beef salad recipe serves four and calls for ½ ounce of unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine.)

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