Summer is strawberry time

By Chef Dez | Jun 19, 2013

Summer is here and strawberry season is one of the most celebrated times of the year for lovers of this luscious red fruit. I always buy an abundant amount of all fruit when it is in season, and strawberries are no exception.

Although strawberries seem to be available throughout the entire year, thanks to our friends in the south, they are not as good as the ones we get fresh right here from our local farmers.

Imported strawberries from warmer climates have usually been cultivated in a way that produces a larger and firmer berry more durable for transport. This is great for having strawberries available year round, however, these cultivation methods are also the culprit for producing a berry that usually is not as sweet or flavorful as its locally available counterpart.

Thus we tend to rely on sweeteners and flavor enhancers, such as sugar or chocolate, when serving them. A small amount of balsamic vinegar is also, surprisingly, a great way to bring out the flavor of fresh strawberries.

Strawberries are very perishable and should be handled and stored with care.

First of all, never buy a basket of strawberries that contains any spoiled ones. Although it may only be one berry, microscopic mold spores have already been transferred to adjacent berries in the basket. This will lead to the whole basket of fruit deteriorating faster.

Since washing and handling of the berries will also increase the rapidness of spoilage, only wash the amount needed and leave the others untouched.

The washing of strawberries should only be done with the whole berry intact. If the green top is removed, you will find that the center is somewhat hollow. This cavity will collect water and dramatically reduce (water down) the amount of flavor.

Unwashed leftover berries should be stored in the refrigerator in a covered container to keep their "musty" odor from dispersing throughout.

A drain tray in this container would be ideal, as it would aid in air circulation within, by keeping any moisture trapped at the bottom and away from the berries.

Freezing is another option for preservation, however, as with most fragile fruit, you lose quality.

Strawberries are high in vitamin C and the most optimal way of maintaining their nutritional value is to leave them whole. Cut strawberries have more surface area, and thus lose nutrients faster.

To prepare for freezing, wash the berries intact, pat them dry, remove the green tops, and transfer them to a freezer bag and use them within the next six months for best results.

There are many dishes that you can prepare using strawberries. The most traditional are desserts such as strawberry shortcake and chocolate dipped strawberries.

However, they also work great as tid-bits on cheese platter, or make them into a salsa to spoon over grilled chicken or fish.

Many people have never made a salsa out of fruit, but it is very simple, and the contrasting flavors are very complimentary to the grilled fish or meat it is being served upon.

To accomplish making a great strawberry salsa, just add an assortment of items to small-diced strawberries, such as red onion, yellow bell pepper, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice, and season with a little salt and pepper.

You will be amazed at the results – and since it is strawberry season, the time to experiment is now.

Dear Chef Dez,

I have attempted to make chocolate covered strawberries in the past, but they never turn out the way they should be.

When they are bitten into, the hard chocolate coating breaks apart and falls on to the plate instead of staying on the berry. What can I do to prevent this?

Tracey S.

Mission, B.C.

Dear Tracey,

When you melt the chocolate to dip the strawberries into, also melt butter with it and mix it together to form your chocolate coating.

Once your strawberries are dipped, chill them in the refrigerator to set, but bring them almost to room temperature before serving.

The butter will soften the coating, just as room temperature butter is softer than room temperature chocolate. Use two ounces of butter for every four ounces of chocolate.

Send your food/cooking questions to dez@chefdez.com or P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, BC V2T 6R4. Chef Dez is a food columnist, culinary instructor and cookbook author. Visit him at www.chefdez.com.

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