Savory blueberry sauce
Blueberries are back in season in these parts, and these brilliant blue, pea-size bubbles of berry beauty are mighty hard to resist.
Still, when our FoodLovers Discussion Group advisors suggested that we feature blueberries as Ingredient of the Month for July, calling for a full month of sharing recipes and carrying on serious discussions about <i>Vaccinium corymbosum</I> - that's "blueberries," to you - I was a little dubious.
Sure, you can eat them as is, <i>au naturel</i> or with cream. They're great on vanilla ice cream, fine in pancakes or muffins. What's more, blueberry advocates say, research suggests that they're among the healthiest of fruits, associated with so many health claims that they start to sound like the next-best thing after carnival snake oil.
One blueberry-loving site proclaims that Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Center have listed blueberries No. 1 among fruits with cancer-fighting antioxidant activity. "They are also known to slow the age related loss of mental capacity, fight cardiovascular disease, stroke, urinary tract infections, and to improve eyesight." But will they wash the windows and scrub my floors?
I continued to fret. How many blueberry recipes can there be? Once you've made muffins and pancakes, what fields are left to conquer? Did anybody ever use blueberries in a main course?
But that's what Ingredient of the Month is all about, my friends reminded me. Think outside the box. Contemplate the flavor and style of the featured ingredient, and let your creative spirit run free.
Fair enough. I picked up a couple of boxes of blueberries, ate about half of them right out of the box like popcorn. Then I looked in the fridge, hoping inspiration would strike. Soon enough, it did. A leftover chunk of duck breast, sliced into thin medallions and very briefly re-heated, made a fine base for a savory, spicy blueberry sauce, with no sweetening beyond the natural blueberry flavor. Crushed juniper berries added a remarkably compatible flavor complexity; lemon juice imparted a mouth-watering tangy note; a good strong dose of black pepper and just a hint of anise-scented Asian "five spice" and, finally, a dash of Cholula Mexican hot sauce to finish up with a touch of hot-sweet excitement.
It exceeded my most optimistic expectations, and even my long-suffering bride, who doesn't like fruit-and-meat combinations at all, had to admit that the dish was splendid ... and came back for seconds.
If you don't want to use duck, the sauce should work just as well with pork or turkey dark meat. It's probably too intense for lighter meats like chicken or veal, though, and I don't see the flavors with red meat.
If you like blueberries and enjoy widening your culinary horizons with new inventions, I hope you'll join in our online FoodLovers discussions. For more about the tasty berry, and a few starter recipes, check out the Website of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council
INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)
1/2 cup (120g) fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon (15g) juniper berries
1 teaspoon (5g) black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon Asian "five spice"
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Dash hot sauce
1. Clean the blueberries; separate and reserve about a dozen small ones for use at the end of the recipe.
2. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the juniper berries, black peppercorns, sea salt and five-spice into a coarse paste.
3. Put the blueberries (except for the reserved ones) in a saucepan with the juniper-berry paste and the lemon juice. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes (or, if you prefer, microwave for a minute or two), until the berries burst. Blend into a smooth puree, adding a little water if necessary to achieve a fairly thick sauce. Stir in the reserved whole berries and optional hot sauce to taste; you're looking for a well-balanced hot-sweet flavor, not a five-alarm potion.
4. Use as a savory meat sauce for duck, pork or turkey.
Thanks to its combination of juicy, pear-like fruit and crisp acidity, the Loosen Bros. 2005 Riesling "Dr. L"
featured in Monday's <I>30 Second Wine Advisor</I> made an unexpectedly fine match with this sauce on duck-breast medallions. I'd also be interested to try a pairing with a fruit-forward, blueberry-scented red such as a New World Syrah or a Sicilian Nero d'Avola.