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Wild Blueberries: The Secret Sauce Boss

Editorial consulting by the Culinary Institute of America

“Sauce is boss.” That phrase still rings in my head years after culinary school, where a particular instructor never let us forget that sauces are more than just complements to dishes – they are inseparable from them. Imagine eggs Benedict without buttery hollandaise, a gyro sandwich without zingy tzatziki, or an eggroll without sweet-sour duck sauce?

Several major trends have turned the classical European world of the five mother sauces on its ear. For one, the rise of value-added, portion-control, and pre-cut ingredients means there is less scrap in our kitchens to utilize. But it’s more than a lack of things to throw in a pot: Heavy, long-cooked, starch-thickened sauces are giving way to lighter, simpler sauces that preserve the freshness and intensify the inherent flavor of foods – using a minimum of quality ingredients and treated with a deft hand. Viscosity and richness are extracted from the central ingredients via reduction and pureeing their own natural fibers into the sauce. Call it wellness, call it food integrity, the result is the same: sauces that celebrate and elevate products. Consider the tomato. Classic French sauce tomate would include pork, roux, butter, and a cacophony of aromatic vegetables. Contemporary tomato sauce, on the other hand, is comprised of mostly tomatoes and utilizes the natural fibers in the tomato to provide thickness and body.

Wild Blueberries Will Accentuate Your Sauce

Amazing culinary worlds open when we understand the variations that can be made of any sauce with the simple addition of an ingredient or two. Fruits and berries are not just for dessert anymore – in fact, many global cuisines incorporate them into savory dishes. Berries are some of the world’s most versatile, delicious and nutritious ingredients, and Wild Blueberries are no exception. With a complex sweetness and an unmistakable tang, Wild Blueberries can be the perfect addition to accentuate a sauce. Many proteins do quite well paired with Wild Blueberries, and as they provide a juniper-esque aroma, my first thought would be hearty, flavorful game meats such as venison or boar. Roasted boar chops served with a Wild Blueberry Cumberland sauce variation would create a spectacular main entree. Delicate meats can also withstand the flavor cascade of the Wild Blueberry, such as a lovely pan-roasted chicken breast with a Wild Blueberry-accented natural jus or a grilled filet of salmon with Wild Blueberry chutney. In addition to the amazing flavors and aromas that Wild Blueberries can bring to your sauces, the nutritional aspect of Wild Blues cannot be overlooked. We’ve known for a long time about the cancer-fighting antioxidant power of Wild Blueberries, but recently blueberries have enjoyed “superfood” status and are proven to help ward off diabetes, high blood pressure and heart attacks. Recent studies have suggested that Wild Blueberries may even help to stave off Alzheimer’s disease. All the more reason to simmer, stir, and puree these nutritional powerhouses into our sauces!

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Seek Flavors that Harmonize

Globally inspired dishes are getting increasingly micro-focused, and sauces are no exception. In keeping with the light, fresh theme, sauces such as chimichurri, romesco, and muhammara have made their way into many a chef’s repertoire. These sauces, because of their light, flavorful and straightforward nature, can be utilized for a host of other applications, such as marinating meats and vegetables and creating delicious salads such as a pesto chicken or a salad made with ancient grains bound by a tangy Oaxacan Mole.

When we consider pairing center-of-the-plate items with a sauce, we want to find flavors that are compatible and harmonize with that item. These can be either complementary or contrasting flavors (and textures). An example of a complementary flavor pairing would be a juicy, perfectly grilled filet of beef served with a rich veal demi-glace. The complex, umami-laden richness of both sauce and main item marry and intensify each other on the palate. On the other hand, a tender, smoky pulled pork butt provides a great foil for a tart-sweet Carolina barbecue sauce. The punch of the sauce is an effective contrast to the fatty, rich pork. Each bite coats the mouth with flavorful fat, then washes that richness away with the cleansing smack of vinegar.

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There are countless ways to approach sauces, but no matter which direction you take – rich, light, thick or thin – sauces will eloquently elevate your food. Add the potent flavor and whole berry appeal of Wild Blueberries and your sauces will really be boss.

About the Author 

Chef Lance Nitahara, PCIII, CEC, CPC, CHE

Lecturing Instructor, CIA Consulting

Chef Lance Nitahara is certified as a ProChef Level III (PCIII), Certified Executive Chef (CEC), Certified Pastry Culinarian (CPC), and Certified Hospitality Educator (CHE).  He twice gained national attention as the winner of two Food Network challenges: In 2010 he won the highly coveted Chopped competition; and in 2012 he took first as sous chef on Iron Chef America. Chef Nitahara is a 2008 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.  He returned to his alma mater as a faculty member in 2015 after a diverse career in New York, Montreal, Kansas City, and his native Hawaii. He serves as a judge for SkillsUSA and ProStart student culinary competitions.