Dakotah Van Patten shares his tips for working with this popular ingredient.

Sponsored by the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.

During summer, blueberry-inspired menu items can be a fantastic way to attract customers to your restaurant. As consumers’ top preferred berry, according to SMS Research’s 2017 U&A Study conducted on behalf of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, this quintessential summer fruit is as versatile as it gets. From sweet to savory, beverages to barbecue, blueberries can create a unique offering that will set your menu apart. With over 50 percent of consumers finding menu items with blueberries more appealing, chefs have a great opportunity to explore all blueberries have to offer on menus and capitalize on summer’s beloved berry.

To inspire menu creativity (and some friendly rivalry), the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council recently held a recipe contest challenging Chicago-based chefs to explore the versatility of blueberries. The windy city’s up-and-coming chefs brought their A-game, with savory applications taking top prizes. Here’s the first of a three-part series on the winning recipes.

Grand prize honors went to Chef Dakotah Van Patten of Dickey’s Barbecue Pit in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Van Patten knew he’d be a chef in the sixth grade, and once out of high school, made quick work of achieving his dream by age 22. Now general manager, his recipe for a Blueberry-Jalapeño Pulled Pork Sandwich with a Savory Blueberry Sauce earned him the title of Grand Prize Winner. Too delicious not to share with customers, the blueberry-inspired sandwich is set to roll out on Dickey’s menus on Memorial Day and runs through Labor Day. Craving the winning dish? Chef Dakotah and his team will be serving his Blueberry-Jalapeño Pulled Pork Sandwich at the NRA QSR BBQ Championship and Cookoff. Be sure to stop by the Blueberry Council booth to taste the winning dish for yourself.

1. What inspired your winning creation?

I found out about the contest while attending the Blueberry Council and QSR Fast Casual Meet-Up with the Dickey’s franchisee owner, Bill Zimmerman, and the general manager of the Gurnee location, Colin Robin. My culinary brain immediately thought of pureeing blueberries and incorporating them into the barbecue sauce. Between the cost and versatility of pork, it was a no-brainer to go that route.

2. When experimenting with your dish, did anything about blueberries surprise you in the kitchen?

Yes—the variation in sweetness from berry to berry within the same pint, and from pint to pint. Like wine grapes, blueberries have particular nuances in taste that vary based on climate, rainfall and terroir. They can taste differently from region to region and even from within the same farm.

3. The Blueberry Council loved the sweet and spicy combo in your winning dish. What was the inspiration behind pairing blueberries with jalapeño?

Sweet heat is my palate choice—I love the sweet and spicy flavor combo. The tanginess of the blueberries balances out the sugar in the barbecue sauce and the heat from the peppers. Plus, jalapeños are one of the least hot peppers, so it’s easy not to overdo it. If you don’t want a jalapeño to be very hot, just remove the membrane and it’s almost as mild as a sweet pepper.

4. What makes blueberries a good ingredient for barbecue?

First, they look great and add visual appeal. Second, they add an unexpected element to the barbecue when you’re eating, like when you add coleslaw to a pork sandwich and get that crunch. For the Savory Blueberry Sauce, I use two pints of blueberries to make one quart of sauce. One is reduced for sauce and then one is added later so the integrity of the blueberries is maintained. I use our Dickey’s barbecue sauce, which is more of a vinegary base, but they would also pair well with a sweeter sauce, like Sweet Baby Ray’s.

5. What advice would you give chefs considering adding blueberries into savory items?

Understanding how sweet your blueberries are will help you determine how much heat to add. While blueberry’s pop of color is a positive quality, you also don’t want that bright purple hue all over your kitchen. To avoid splatter, use very low heat and avoid cooking the blueberries for too long. For a textured sauce, add fresh berries during the last bit of cooking to ensure they keep their integrity. Lastly, before serving, puree and strain for a smoother, more teeth-friendly sauce.

6. Any tips on selecting the best blueberries for certain recipes?

You definitely want to know where you’re going with the recipe before you choose your blueberries. For this Savory Blueberry Sauce, frozen blueberries could be used for the beginning part as all I’m doing is getting the flavor out and reducing it. Frozen can be used in many applications, but at times fresh might be best. For example, if you’re making a blueberry-mango salsa, you want the visual appeal of fresh blueberries that is reminiscent of summer.

7. Any tips or ideas on pairing blueberries with other regional cuisines?

What I’ve realized is that blueberries are incredibly versatile. They add a sweet, tangy flavor, but won’t overpower the dish. You could go Latin and stuff a tamale with blueberry pulled pork, or French with blueberry wine-poached pears.

8. Any tips for chefs looking to experiment more with blueberries?

Don’t be afraid to experiment—it didn’t take much to come up with my recipe. If you put your mind to it, anything is possible.

By Davina van Buren

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