While instant coffee may not do wonders in your morning mug, it can effortlessly add tons of depth and flavor at the dinner table. That’s because coffee — even the instant variety — packs one of the most complex flavor profiles of any food, an amazing balance of acidity, bitterness, sweetness and earthy notes.
Those flavors can heighten the impact of other ingredients in a dish, much the way salt does. So what should you do with it?
• Add a tablespoon or two of instant coffee to chili. You will get a depth of flavor you didn’t think possible.
• For the same reason, add some to a tomato- or red wine-based beef stew. Coffee plays so well with the savory meat and acidic-sweet tomatoes.
• Combine instant coffee with salt, cumin, ground black pepper and whatever else gets you going. Grind it up and use as a rub on steaks or beef roasts.
• Add some instant coffee to a chocolate-chocolate chip cookie recipe. Ditto for chocolate cake.
• Make the best hot cocoa. In a saucepan, combine equal parts cocoa powder and instant coffee with milk. Bring to a gentle simmer and whisk in sugar to taste. Or be totally decadent and use chocolate chips instead of sugar.
— J.M. Hirsch