Tuesday’s Project: Blueberries with Fish
It seems to be a perfect match: fresh fruit and fresh fish. A freshly picked fruit bursting with life at the peak of its season paired with a just caught fish. Add a glass of chardonnay and right there should be the perfect dinner recipe. Except so often two of the food world’s most desirable (and healthy) components don’t compliment each other. Sweet fruits in salsas or sauces cover up the delicate fish. Or weak fruits are barely noticeable against the brute strength of a swordfish or tuna. Sometimes razor thin slices of fruits, often pears, work magic when paired with a raw fish, sashimi style. Tropical fruit salsas, especially mango and papaya based, are seen often atop scallops for appetizers. In Hawaii, chefs work magic between the local fish caught in the morning and the guavas and passion fruit from nearby orchards.
What about just a plain piece of salmon or halibut with a fruit in its prime, such as blueberries in late summer? Melissa Clark of The New York Times recently shared the recipe to solve this dilemma. After trying her agrodolce blueberries sauce with both baked salmon and grilled halibut the past few weeks, I now have a go to blueberry preparation for fish where the fish and fruit actually co-exist together.
The sauce is far from being a sweet, blueberry pie filling. In fact, the only sweetness comes via a tiny amount of honey. A small amount of butter provides structure to the sauce. The real secret is the important seasoning elements: cinnamon sticks, fresh thyme (perhaps in summer try some fresh basil or for a little flair some fresh cilantro?), and then a little crunch from caramelized shallots. Other than that, the main part of the sauce is of course, blueberries.
Since blueberries naturally are one of the less sweet fruits, they are the perfect base for a fruit sauce with fish. A sweeter fruit, such as orange, tends to play wonderfully with a heavier, flavorful meat or game, but drowns out fish unless dealt with very delicately. Ms. Clark’s variation on the sweet-sour Italian sauce called agrodolce is marvelous. The moment I read the recipe, I was transported back to a dinner once in Vancouver, B.C. with a most delightful piece of Copper River Salmon, vibrantly burnt orange and the texture of a glistening piece of prized toro tuna at the Tsukuji Fish Market in Tokyo. It didn’t need anything else. A gentle sweet-sour play on a Pinot noir reduction with blueberries lifted the salmon even higher, presenting a dish with no doubt as to its Pacific Northwest sense of place.
I can even imagine enjoying this salmon with agrodolce blueberries with a glass of Williamette Valley Pinot noir. I’m more likely to steer towards a Chardonnay. Even a Riesling full of slate could play the intriguing foil (a too sweet Rielsing would be the villain).
Ms. Clark mentions how the sauce would be delightful with nearly everything from salty mackerel to neutral chicken breasts. It’s wonderful with the somewhat neutral salmon. I may have even enjoyed the contrast to the slightly stronger in taste, smoky, steak-like halibut fresh off the grill. Grilled squash is a terrific partner with the fish sand blueberries, especially in September. Next month, go for the bitter-sweet playfulness of the blueberry agrodolce with rapini or kale. With a fresh loaf of “bread gold” (what I call the Olive Country Loaf at San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery, the eternally popular spot where bread emerges from the oven at 5 pm and 6 pm…without even thinking I happened to be walking by at exactly this time frame the day before making the blueberry agrodolce…terrific coincidence!) for scooping up some sauce, you have quite the dinner courtesy of Ms. Clark.
Yes, fish and fruit can certainly compliment each other. Perhaps next we’ll work on swordfish with peaches.