Black Magic

Licorice makes its way out of the candy jar

Black licorice is a love-or-hate candy. But there are a lot of lovers out there if the influx of its flavor into top restaurants is any indication.

Chefs are casting it in starring roles in preparations both savory and sweet, such as the use of dried licorice root as a spice in main courses and licorice extract in desserts. And the results have little in common with Nibs or Twizzlers.

Chef Jeff Banker of San Francisco's Baker & Banker grates dried licorice root (from rare-spice purveyor Le Sanctuaire) over duck breast served with a licorice-infused sauce. At Chicago's Sprout, the root is grated tableside, showering the flavor of anise onto a salad of lettuce, fennel and pear.

In New York, chef Gabriel Kreuther of The Modern dusts a fillet of hamachi with licorice root ground finely with clove, fennel seed and nutmeg. The dish has a fresh, bright flavor that he says bridges winter and spring.

Still, some can't keep licorice far from sweets: At New York's wd-50, experimental pastry chef Alex Stupak makes black licorice custard from brewers' licorice, an extract used to make porter and stout.

At home, try Jake Godby's recipe for salted licorice ice cream, which has earned a cult following at San Francisco's Humphry Slocombe: Melt Red Vines black licorice into an ice cream base, season generously with kosher salt and freeze.