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Maple Syrup

Sweet yet sassy, this pantry staple is more versatile than you think

Fine Cooking Issue 70
Photos: Scott Phillips
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There’s probably a bottle of pure maple syrup in your refrigerator right now, awaiting your next batch of pancakes. But if that’s all you’re using it for, you’re missing out. Maple syrup—and I’m talking about the real stuff, not Aunt Jemima—is like a hidden treasure in your fridge, with potential to add a golden touch to everything from roast chicken to whipped cream. 

In savory dishes, maple syrup adds an earthy sweetness to sauces, marinades, vinaigrettes, and glazes. Its inimiitable flavor pairs well with meats like pork and salmon, peppery spices like ginger and cayenne, and condiments like mustard, vinegar, and soy sauce.

In sweets and pastries, maple is a natural. As a maple syrup addict, I may be biased, but I think it makes pretty much any dessert better, whether it’s cheesecake, crème brûlée, or scones.

Grade B is for best

Maple syrup comes in various shades of amber, and these color gradations correlate directly to flavor. The darker the syrup, the more pronounced its flavor. The official grading of syrup also relates to its color: It goes from fancy to grade A, grade B, and grade C, getting darker with the “lower” grades. I choose grade B as my staple syrup for its intense, almost caramelly flavor. It’s not as widely available as the lighter grade A, however, so if you see it, buy it.

Grade B maple syrup is available at Whole Foods markets and Trader Joe’s, but it’s also widely available online. Try Vermontmapleoutlet.com, which carries maple syrup and other specialty maple products. If you’d like to taste the differences between maple syrup grades, Chefshop.com carries a four-grade sampler pack of Vermont maple syrup.

Savory ways with maple

Maple chicken. Brush maple syrup (straight or diluted) on a chicken as it roasts for delicious skin and  drippings.
Dijon-maple vinaigrette. For a twist on honey mustard dressing, whisk 2 tsp. grade B maple syrup, 2 tablespoons cider vinegar, 4 tsp. Dijon mustard, 6  Tbs. olive oil, minced shallots, and fresh thyme.
Maple lemonade or iced tea. Instead of sugar, stir maple syrup into lemonade or iced tea.
Asiany marinade. Whisk maple syrup, soy sauce, rice vineegar, garlic, and fresh or ground ginger and marinate pork or salmon before grilling or roasting.
Lemony maple vinaigrette. Whisk lemon juice, fresh ginger, maple syrup, lemon zest, and olive oil for a light, refreshing salad dressing.
Maple stuffed figs. Blend maple syrup and a generous grinding of black pepper into fresh goat cheese. Stuff into halved fresh or dried figs and garnish with thyme.
Puréed sweet potatoes or squash. A drizzle of maple syrup added at the end of puréeing highlights their natural sweetness.
Mapled nuts. Heat maple syrup with cumin, coriander, nutmeg, cayenne, and butter. Add walnuts or pecans, toss, and bake on a baking sheet until aromatic and toasted.
Rosemary-infused maple syrup. Heat the syrup with a few fresh rosemary sprigs until simmering, turn off the heat, and let steep for 30  minutes. Use in marinades and vinaigrettes.

Pork chops with maple-ginger pan sauce

Make dessert more mapley

Maple whipped cream. Add 2 Tbs. grade B maple syrup to 1  cup heavy cream and whip until stiff. Use to garnish pies, cakes, or  ice cream.
Maple French toast. Add a splash of  maple syrup to the egg-milk mixture for soaking bread. The maple flavor infuses the bread.
Maple tarte Tatin. Use slightly reduced maple syrup instead of caramel in the bottom of the pan. Boil the syrup until it’s a shade darker, about 3 minutes, pour into a pie pan, add sautéed apples, and cover with pie dough. Bake and then turn out.
Maple ice cream. Add grade B maple syrup to vanilla ice cream custard before freezing. Or even easier, just drizzle maple syrup over vanilla ice cream.
Maple icing. Beat maple syrup into classic buttercream frosting or a quick icing made with confectioners’ sugar and butter.
Maple crème brûlée. Add a few teaspoons of grade B maple syrup to crème brûlée custard before baking in a water bath.
Sautéed maple apple slices. Cook sliced apples in butter and maple syrup until golden and tender. Remove the apples and immediately add heavy cream to the pan, whisking to combine with the syrup. Serve over ice cream or  pancakes.

Maple butter is addictively delicious.

Storing maple syrup

Once opened, maple syrup should be refrigerated. Glass containers maintain flavor better than plastic and metal. If mold develops, remove it, strain the syrup, and bring to a boil. Let cool and keep refrigerated. Maple syrup keeps indefinitely in the freezer.


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