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BC on a Plate: Summer

Summer in the city is taking on a distinctly blue tone as a massive crop of delicious, premium blueberries spills from local fields. More than 130 million pounds of these delicious blue beauties are produced locally each year, with the majority shipped off to satisfy the growing demand worldwide for this delectable, healthful fruit.

Fortunately for those lucky enough to be working or attending business events here at the Civic Hotel this month, many of these blueberries remain available for local consumption as their fans include Executive Chef Arora Rajeev. Whether fresh or cooked or in sweet or savoury preparations, they’re certain to be found in some of the dishes on his bright, colourful buffet table.

“You can bring seasonal variations to dishes when you have amazing fruits like local raspberries or blueberries to work with. So instead of a dessert of plain Crème Brulée, you make it special by adding blueberries. When you start bringing out different ingredients, offering a seasonal menu, it makes meals much more interesting for people. It adds real freshness to the plate, which I personally believe in.”

While the gorgeous colour of these berries is a feast for the eyes, it also signals the wonderful health benefits of this low-calorie, low-sodium fruit. The berry’s blue colour comes from anthocyanin, an anti-inflammatory phytonutrient found in the skin. The list of additional benefits is lengthy, ranging from their high vitamin content (C and K) to healthy levels of manganese and fibre and a variety of antioxidants. Still, while they’re a healthy choice, the real kicker has to be their delicate, gorgeous flavour.

“I remember cooking for an event at a place on Boundary Bay, right next to some blueberry farms. It was for 350 people, so I got 30 pounds of blueberries from one of these and put them on the buffet. And probably 80 or 90% of the people ate the berries. Everybody wanted them because they’re so fresh and delicious, and grown right next door. You just can’t beat that. As a chef it compliments me and compliments the hosts.”

Blueberry Crème Brulée

– 2 cups heavy cream
– 4 large egg yolks, beaten
– ½ cup white sugar
– 1 vanilla pod
– ⅓ cup blueberries

To Finish Custard
– ½ cup white sugar
– ½ cup brown sugar

Maple Blueberries
– 1 cup large fresh blueberries
– ½ cup white sugar
– ½ cup maple syrup

Preheat oven to 300 ℉. Pour the cream into a medium non-reactive milk pan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod using the tip of a knife. Put the seeds and the pod in the pan. Heat the cream until just below boiling point. Remove the vanilla pod from the cream. Put the beaten eggs in a separate bowl and pour ¼ cup hot cream over them, whisking continuously until well combined. Slowly add remaining hot cream to mixture and add 1/2 cup sugar. Mix thoroughly.

Spread the blueberries evenly in your crème brulee ramekins. Pour the custard mixture over the blueberries, filling the ramekins to the rim. Place the ramekins in a baking pan with edges at least as high as the ramekins. Place the baking pan in the oven and carefully pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the outsides of the ramekins. Bake until the edges have set but the centre still jiggles when the ramekin is gently shaken, 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove the ramekins from the water bath and let cool on a rack for 30 minutes. Then wrap individually and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

To serve, combine the white and brown sugar in a bowl. Sprinkle the top of each custard with a thin, even layer of the sugar, using about 1 tablespoon per ramekin. Use a kitchen blowtorch or the broiler to evenly melt and caramelize the sugar.

Lightly brush the remaining blueberries with maple syrup and roll in sugar. Garnish custard with Maple Blueberries.