Aaron Franklin’s annual cookout at the Feast Portland, the city's food festival, is as hard to get into as Franklin Barbecue itself. But now everyone can try his legendary brisket in the form of chocolate. The pitmaster collaborated with David Briggs of Portland’s Xocolatl de David for a chocolate series in honor of the festival’s fifth anniversary.
Xocolatl de David was first known for its bacon caramel, and Briggs also previously worked with pig’s blood, foie gras, and Benton’s Country Ham. So brisket wasn’t a huge stretch. The first thing that came to his mind was the first free morsel Aaron Franklin gives to everyone who waits in line when they first get to the counter in Austin: that peppery, barky snap.
"There's so much going on, especially when you get an end piece," Briggs said. "The flavor, and the texture mostly, but also everything that goes along with that."
Franklin sent Briggs several pounds of brisket, and they brainstormed on the phone. But as mid-August approached, the chocolate-maker still wasn’t sure exactly what to do with the meat. An unexpected breakthrough came when Briggs was on a trip to San Francisco, where he tried the barbecue pork buns at Mister Jiu’s, which are garnished with what the restaurant calls "pork-floss"—meat that’s been dry-fried in a wok for several hours. That crispy, airy, strand-like texture is what Briggs wanted. "It was like cotton candy meat," he said.
For the brisket, Briggs used a little oil, and not just any oil: Franklin sent him smoked beef tallow, rendered straight from brisket trimmings and then strained. Then the meat went into Briggs’ dehydrator. The finished product "almost mimics toffee chunks," says Franklin. It’s also basically jerky, making the bar shelf-stable.
Franklin’s espresso barbecue sauce was spread onto a sheet pan and dehydrated, reaching a "fruit roll-up stage," before transforming into something similar to hard candy. The resulting 72% Ecuadorian chocolate bar also includes a little sea salt and a lot of pepper. (An early experiment with making a "salt-and-pepper lollipop" to break up in the bar did not work out. "It was disgusting," Briggs said. "Really really bad.")
The final product has a lot of layers, and, as Briggs said, "a long finish." The first hit is pepper. Then you get the salt and smoke. Then the sauce. And finally, the meatiness. When Franklin first tasted it, it took a second for all the flavors to register. "It’s oddly complex," he said. "At first, it was, ‘I don’t get it.’ Then: ‘Oh yeah, there is it is! There it is, I got it!’"
"It’s just fun," said Briggs. "It’s not supposed to be something super-serious, but i think it's delicious. The same reason why the bacon works is probably why this works. It’s smoky, salty, peppery, lots of umami. Why wouldn't it work?"
Smoked beef doesn’t have the same sweetness as bacon, but that’s where the caramel/molasses/tomato notes of the espresso sauce comes in, even if sauce is a third rail for some.
"While it may be sacrilege to many in Texas to add barbecue sauce," Briggs wrote on the bar’s package copy, "the flavors of Franklin Barbecue’s espresso sauce pairs quite well with chocolate."
"I know how that goes with Texans," Briggs said. "I’ve read enough of Daniel Vaughn’s stuff to know. I don’t like barbecue sauce on most of my barbecue anyway, so I just made that little joke."
Other chef partnerships for the chocolate bar series include Elias Cairo of Portland sausage-makers Olympia Provisions ("Swiss Picnic") and Jessica Koslow of LA rice-bowl darling Squirl ("Slice Crispies").
All three of the Xocolatl de David bars are available via mail order and at select retailers (though none in Texas, alas), with 10% of the proceeds from all sales going to Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon. Briggs will also be offering samples at Feast Portland’s "Grand Tasting" next Friday and Saturday.