How 5 Forms of a Single Ingredient Increase Kitchen Versatility
Applicable in both sweet and savory dishes from breakfast to dinner, blueberries are already extremely versatile. What many restaurant leaders may not know, however, is that blueberries are widely available in a variety of forms giving these little berries even more range on the menu.
Chef Andrew Hunter, USHBC’s chef partner, breaks down five of his favorite forms of blueberries available to chefs explaining how each can boost flavor and culinary creativity across the menu.
1. Dried Blueberries
Dried blueberries are powerhouses for rich blueberry flavor. “These are what you would get if you imagine a super concentrated blueberry,” Hunter says. “They have some citrus notes, like lemon, and even notes of black pepper. You can actually taste the tannins in this form.”
In addition to their bright purple hue, the texture of dried blueberries can be dense and similar to a fruit leather, as opposed to other types of dried fruit that may be crumbly, Hunter describes. “Dried blueberries will also rehydrate well and plump up with your liquid of choice,” he says. “I soak them in tea and use them for a blueberry milk tea that’s almost like a boba.”
To many chefs’ surprise, the natural pectin found in blueberries can offer a nice natural viscosity in recipes across the menu. Dried blueberries can be used to produce a wide range of textures from coarse to incredibly smooth.
“Dried blueberries are great for sauces and dressings you don’t want to use gums in,” Hunter says. “The natural pectin won’t make something super viscous and they give sauces a beautiful color. I recently made a roasted tomato and blueberry gazpacho with zaatar, sumac, and a crema on top. It came out almost magenta. Then I added fresh blueberries to create pops of color—the result was a nice sweetened and acidic soup.”
2. Freeze-Dried Whole Blueberries
Aside from eating freeze-dried blueberries by the fistful (similar to popcorn), Hunter says these light and airy blueberries are a mix of sweet and sour flavors. In their solid state, they may have limited applications in the kitchen, though some chefs are getting creative and finding menu unique applications for freeze-dried.
For starters, freeze-dried blueberries are fantastic garnishes for a variety of dishes from sweet to savory. Chef Travis Kukull used freeze-dried to top his Pan Seared Salmon with Blueberry Gnocchi. Additionally, these crispy berries can be great toppings for smoothie bowls and salads. Most often, freeze-dried berries are pulverized down into a powder, which can offer restaurants more diverse culinary applications.
3. Powdered Blueberries
The resulting blueberry powder from pulverized freeze-dried berries gives off a citrus taste, and can lend dishes a brilliant light purple color, Hunter says.
One of his favorite ways to use the powder is to make salts and sugars that can be used to garnish the rims of cocktail glasses like one might find on a margarita. “Blueberry powder makes a fantastic salted rim for a Bloody Mary,” Hunter says.
Some restaurants also use them to flavor savory meat dishes, such as Delicatessen’s Chef Michael Ferraro, who used his blueberry powder in a Blueberry Coffee-Rubbed Rib Eye. Or even applied to seafood, such as North Fork Table & Inn’s Lightly Cured Local Striped Bass which features cucumber, mint, and blueberry powder.
4. Blueberry Puree
Blueberry purees offers chefs great versatility, whether bought in a sweetened variety or made in-house from whole berries, as they can be created to fit virtually any sauce need.
Chef Hunter recommends that restaurants use blueberry purees to create a “Blueberry Mother,” or a master sauce like a béchamel, velouté, or other French master sauces. This way restaurants can use their mother sauce as a starter for a variety of dishes. By simply adding a few extra components, chefs can adapt the sauce into a vinaigrette, a creamy dressing, a soup, and more.
For his mother sauce, Hunter purees dried sweetened blueberries, blueberry concentrate, and frozen blueberries in a blender until the product is a very fine consistency. “There is still some texture to it, and it can be used in any number of ways,” Hunter says. He’s even used it to put a twist on Char Siu, or Chinese barbecue. By combining hoisin sauce and blueberries, he created a fruity and complex sauce to compliment the meat.
Taking it one step further, blueberry purees can also be used in beverages. Though only available in the U.K., Starbucks offers a coffee-free Blueberry Cheesecake Crème Frappuccino that mixes blueberry puree with cheesecake mix and is finished with whipped cream and cookie crumbles. Wendy’s has also seen the culinary versatility of blueberry puree in beverages as shown in its popular summer LTO Blueberry Pineapple FruiTea Chiller.
5. Blueberry Juice
Last, but not least—blueberry juice is a great way to get a pure, unedited, blueberry taste. “Blueberry juice is the quintessential blueberry flavor,” Hunter says. “There is blueberry juice in my refrigerator right now. It’s great in drinks, cocktails, or even as a mid-afternoon spritzer with a splash of sparkling water.”
Stock restaurant in Seattle serves Blueberry Mimosas made from cold-pressed blueberry juice from Bow Hill. And in Chicago, Alinea restaurant offers nonalcoholic drink pairings, including one made from jasmine-rice stock, blueberry juice, and brown butter.
While beverages are a natural fit for blueberry juice, it can certainly add value to food applications as well. Like the puree, the juice can also be used in vinaigrettes, dressings, and soups.
With diverse flavor applications, bold color, and natural qualities, such as pectin, blueberries are powerhouse ingredients that can be used across the menu. And with so many forms available, it’s no wonder they are kitchen superstars. No matter what form a restaurant decides to use, blueberries offer a wide variety of flavors and culinary applications that allow chefs to add dimension to a vast array of dishes.