ON COOKING: Berry good ideas from Chef Dez

Blueberries work well in sweet or savory dishes.

by Chef Dez/Special to Black Press Media

Summertime always offers a bountiful harvest of fresh fruit and berries; and blueberries, are by far, one of my favourite. They are not only packed full of nutrition and flavour but are also a very versatile cooking ingredient.

Upon any investigation into foods that are rich in antioxidants, you will always find berries at the top of the list. Blueberries have most other berries beat when it comes to antioxidant levels. The health benefits that we gain from foods abundant in antioxidants are too numerous to list in complete detail but includes anti-aging, lower cholesterol, strong immune resistance to flues and viruses, and reduction in risks of cancer and heart disease. This being said, it is in our best interest to attempt to introduce blueberries into our meals whenever possible.

The first idea that crosses most people’s minds when considering blueberries as an ingredient is desserts, but blueberries also compliment many savoury dishes quite well. Here are two suggestions for you to experiment with in the kitchen:

Red meat – Since blueberries are very dark and intensely flavoured, they tend to stand up to meats that are also very bold. A red wine pan sauce on steaks, roast beef, or lamb for example, is always complimented by the rich intensity of a couple handfuls of blueberries cooked down in it. Simply strain out the skins for a smooth syrupy sauce. Many people who have cooked with me also know that I am a big fan of including a dark berry jam into ground meat dishes (chili, meatloaf, hamburgers, etc.) based on this same principle.

Salads – When dealing with acids in vinaigrettes, blueberries work well as added sweetness, either as a salad ingredient or pureed into the dressing. This helps tone down the sharp notes of vinegars, lemon, and lime juices. The result is a smoother more complex taste.

One last thing to remember is that blueberries are also enhanced by the taste of balsamic vinegar. Try this at home tonight: take a handful of blueberries, wash and dry them, and toss with a teaspoon of balsamic, and a sprinkle of sugar, if desired. The blueberries and the balsamic are both bold flavours and match up quite well.

Dear Chef Dez,

I love buying blueberries from our local farms in large quantities at a great price. What is the best way to freeze them? How long should I keep them before using them up?

Joseph C., Mission

Dear Joseph,

Blueberries are best frozen individually to make it easier to retrieve a certain measurement when they are frozen, rather than defrosting a solid mass of them. Line some baking sheets with parchment paper, and then wash and dry your blueberries. Scatter them all out on the lined baking sheets and freeze them completely. Once completely frozen, easily transfer them to freezer bags by sliding them off the parchment. I suggest keeping frozen blueberries for six to 12 months at the most for best results.

.

– Chef Dez is a food columnist and culinary instructor in the Fraser Valley. Visit him at www.chefdez.com. Send questions to dez@chefdez.com or to P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, B.C. V2T 6R4

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