What makes a food romantic? Some items are thought of as aphrodisiacs — like oysters, chocolate and wine — but there can be more to getting the heart pumping.
To set the table for love on Valentine's Day, you'll want to pay special attention to textures, tastes, color, and shareability. Something that creates a mood and heightens all the senses — including touch and smell — can spark romance.
Look for “something satisfying that will put both people in a good mood and be eaten in a good atmosphere of happiness and warmth,” says Ariane Daguin, CEO of high-end specialty foods purveyor D'Artagnan, and a chef from a family of restaurateurs in France's Gascony region.
Harvey Edelman, 71, a musical theater writer and marketing company owner in Jersey City, New Jersey, loves to cook. For him, making a meal romantic means “putting in the effort and not cooking something really easy,” he says. “I need to show my commitment cooking-wise."
The meaning behind the meal always adds to the atmosphere. As Daguin says, “When you cook the food with love, it shows."
Here are nine foods that will surely bring you closer on Valentine's Day.
There's no truth to claims that these bivalves are aphrodisiacs, but oysters are loaded with zinc, which your body needs to make proteins and DNA, and it can help you fight off bacteria. While the science is not so sexy, oysters are romantic “because what makes food romantic is its visceral nature, and oysters are extremely visceral,” says Sims McCormick, cofounder of Real Oyster Cult, which sources and curates oysters from sustainable farms and ships them overnight. “The fresh smell of the sea when you shuck the oyster, the merroir [the liquid that spills from it], the feel of plump, sweet meat in your mouth — it's sensual."
Another food that claims to stimulate desire, caviar or fish eggs are said to have been a favorite of Casanova. That roe is rich in vitamins and minerals like omega 3 (good for healthy circulatory and immune systems) and vitamin B12 (keeps nerve and blood cells healthy). And because caviar is so pricey, it's in that category of decadent things that people want to splurge on to show a lover they are worth it.
"It's effervescent and crunchy, and that makes it sexy,” McCormick says, adding that it's nice to place those sexy eggs atop an oyster. Domestic caviar is less expensive than imported. Siberian caviar starts at about $75 an ounce.
The aroma is the truffle's calling card — an earthy, almost garlicky, moldy, meaty, sweet, sweaty smell that adds complexity to any food. “If you want to impress someone, shave a couple of black truffle slices on top of your food,” Daguin says. Now is the best time to buy them. With many restaurants closed, truffle prices have gone down. Mid-February last year, black truffles retailed at about $1,575 per pound; this year they're down to about $900 per pound. You're only using a scant few ounces, so think about splurging.
The dark, silky candy has always had the cultural cachet of being a special, romantic treat. Chocolate contains the chemical phenylethylamine, which is a stimulant that appears to have positive effects on mood and triggers the release of pleasurable endorphins. But chocolate's voluptuous, creamy mouth feel is what keeps Valentine's Day gifters coming back for more. Again, scarcity will increase desire, so spring for something artisanal and high-end in the chocolate world — whether it's milk, dark or white chocolate — that's unique with complex flavors you can talk about.
Lobster is often a bit messy which can translate to romance. “There is something sensual about eating with your fingers,” Daguin says. She suggests boiling the lobster with lots of hot spices and salt and pepper, so you don't have to re-season, and keeping it in the shell. Then dip it in truffle butter and share. The decadence of a morsel of lobster meat with hot butter dripping from it is hard to rival.
6. Wagyu Beef or Venison
Cooking something with a special ingredient always makes it more meaningful, Daguin says. Wagyu beef, with its highly marbled meat, is exceedingly tender and melts in your mouth with a rich and almost buttery taste, while a pink cut of venison evokes the outdoors. Paired with a red wine sauce, venison is something a bit more inventive than traditional steak.
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Yes, codfish. Edelman's perspective is that if a dish is made with love, it's romantic. The foodie created his idea of romance when he riffed on a meal he ate at a Manhattan restaurant and came up with pecan-crusted codfish drizzled with sautéed shiitake mushrooms. “There are a lot of steps,” he says, which satisfy his requirement around extra effort.
He buys all the ingredients fresh at a market then grinds and chops the pecans, rolls the cod in egg batter, coats it with pecans and herbs, sautés the shiitakes in olive oil and a dollop of truffle oil. “It probably would take an hour to cook it, but I'm drinking wine along the way,” he says.
Sharing a meal is the ultimate in closeness. Fondues with chocolate or cheese are fun, special-occasion meals. Pasta dishes with great mouth feel and gorgeous aromas can also be supremely satisfying and sexy. Daguin swears by her cassoulet, a traditional French thick bean and meat stew. When you put something in the middle of the table to be “convivial,” as Daguin says, those efforts will boost the romance quotient.
Go with a color scheme as a Valentine reminder — red strawberries, pomegranates, watermelon. Some of those ripe fruits give off a sweet aroma and you can dip strawberries in chocolate to feed your partner. To get beyond traditional, give passion fruit or papaya — both of which are said to increase libido — a try.