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Maple: It's not just for syrup

February 16, 2015

Maple-Bourbon smoked duck.

In coffee, tea and barbecue sauce, with duck, turkey and salads, itís become a go-to flavor.

Growing up, I associated maple flavor with the pancake syrup found at the breakfast table. It was sweet but mostly flavorless. As if its only purpose was to baptize food in a sticky coating of liquid sugar. I wasnít the biggest fan.

Today it seems maple is everywhere. It flavors ice cream, candy, coffee, tea, barbecue sauce and more. Thirsty? Hydrate yourself with maple water, now hip enough to be touted as the next coconut water.

And maple isnít just limited to retail products. Go out to eat and youíll find it added to any number of restaurant dishes. Itís a chefís Eliza Doolittle.

I now look for any excuse to add the real syrup to a dish, whether simple desserts, such as a salted maple stove-top pudding, or a brine for a basting glaze for slow-smoked turkey or duck. Iíll even sneak it into salads as the sweet component in a vinaigrette. And, yes, pancakes arenít complete without it.

"Maple syrup is a great alternative sweetener. Itís natural," says Jon Shook, co-owner with Vinny Dotolo of the restaurants Animal and Son of a Gun. Maple has found a way onto the menus of both places.

The smoked steelhead roe with maple cream and pumpernickel bread at Son of a Gun "has a bit of a cult following," says Dotolo. Unusual sounding, perhaps, if you havenít yet tried it. But, Dotolo adds, "it kind of reminds you of bagels and lox. The smokiness, saltiness and sweetness lends itself to a really nice contrast."

Another cult favorite? The foie gras loco moco at Animal. Its take on the Hawaiian comfort food layers rice, a beef burger, Spam, foie gras and a quail egg bathed in a sweet-spicy sauce punctuated with notes of Sriracha and maple syrup.

"I have a kind of attachment to maple syrup," says Susan Feniger of Border Grill and Mud Hen Tavern. She says she used to make maple syrup when she was in college in Vermont. Feniger describes collecting the sap and staying up all night, boiling the sap down to a syrup. "It was pretty incredible. Iíve always been a big fan."

At Fenigerís Mud Hen Tavern, sheís used maple syrup quite a bit over the years. "Kind of from the Street days," she says. (Feniger transformed Street, her earlier restaurant, into Mud Hen in 2013.). "Youíve got that Southeast Asian sweet-salty thing going on." Maple infuses a number of dishes, including chicken and waffle croquettes served with a spicy maple sauce and smoked pork belly flavored with an espresso-maple brine.

The restaurant even features a cocktail called the Old Maple, which, though it doesnít contain any actual maple, combines a mixture of rye whiskey, walnut bitters and agave. "It almost tastes like maple syrup," Feniger says.

Maple syrup itself is going through a bit of a renaissance. "Maple syrup has such a distinct flavor," says Shook. "The generation I grew up in, it was Aunt Jemima."

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MAPLE-BOURBON SMOKED DUCK

40 minutes, plus brining and smoking times. Serves 6 to 8

2 tablespoons mustard seeds

1 quart apple cider

1 quart water

1/2 cup kosher salt

1 cup maple syrup, divided

1/2 cup bourbon

3 (4-inch) rosemary sprigs, lightly crushed

2 (5- to 6-pound) ducks, thawed

Apple or hickory chips, soaked

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1. Toast the mustard seeds in a pot over medium-low heat just until they start to pop, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the cider and water to the pot, and stir in the salt, one-half cup maple syrup and bourbon. Add the crushed rosemary sprigs and bring the mixture to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside until the brine cools to room temperature.

2. Place the ducks in a large non-reactive bowl and pour over the brine. Place a plate over the ducks to weigh them down so they stay submerged in the brine. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

3. The next morning, remove the ducks from the brine and dry them with paper towels. Place the ducks, uncovered, on a rack and refrigerate until about an hour before cooking.

4. About an hour before cooking, prepare the smoker or grill to cook over low, indirect heat: Set up a drip pan underneath where the ducks will smoke, and fill with water (or the liquid used to soak the wood chips). Shortly before cooking, adjust the heat as needed to maintain a temperature between 250 and 300 degrees and add the soaked chips to start smoking. Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the remaining maple syrup; this will be used to baste the ducks as they cook.

5. Baste the ducks and place them (breast-side up) over the drip pan in the prepared smoker. Adjust the heat as needed (add several coals to either side of the grill as needed if using a kettle grill) to keep the smoker between 250 and 300 degrees; replenish the chips as needed to keep smoking for the first hour. Baste the ducks every 30 minutes or so to keep them moist.

6. Cook to an internal temperature of 135 degrees, 2 to 3 hours (timing will vary depending on the size of the ducks and heat of the smoker). To crisp the skin, open the vents of the grill or smoker to increase the heat, and continue to cook the ducks for 5 to 10 minutes more.

7. Remove and set aside 15 to 20 minutes to rest before carving.

GRILLED APPLE SALAD WITH BLUE CHEESE AND MAPLE VINAIGRETTE

40 minutes. Serves 4

1/2 pound bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch thick strips

1 head radicchio

1 large head fennel

2 tart apples, such as McIntosh or Granny Smith

2 tablespoons minced shallots

1/2 teaspoon chopped thyme

1/4 teaspoon chopped rosemary

5 tablespoons maple syrup

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

4 ounces blue cheese, preferably Maytag

1. Cook the bacon strips over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the strips are crisp, about 10 minutes. Drain the bacon on paper towels, reserving 3 tablespoons bacon grease.

2. Remove any wilted outer leaves from the radicchio and slice it lengthwise into eight wedges. Trim the top off the fennel, halve it lengthwise, then slice it crosswise into half-inch strips, discarding the core. Core the apples and cut each into 8 wedges.

3. Whisk together the shallots, thyme, rosemary, maple syrup, vinegar, bacon grease and olive oil. Season with one-half teaspoon salt and a grind of black pepper, or to taste. This makes about 1 cup vinaigrette.

4. Brush the apple wedges with a little of the vinaigrette and place them on an oiled grill heated over medium-high heat. Grill the wedges for about 2 minutes on each side, until slightly softened with defined grill marks. Remove and reserve in a warm place. Do the same with the fennel and radicchio.

5. Divide the apple, fennel and radicchio among 4 plates. Crumble the blue cheese over the salads, and sprinkle over the bacon. Drizzle 1 to 2 teaspoons of the remaining vinaigrette over each salad. Serve immediately.

Salted maple pudding

20 minutes, plus cooling time. Serves 4 to 6

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

3 cups whole milk

1 cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 (4-inch) vanilla bean, split

2 eggs

3 egg yolks

5 tablespoons cornstarch

1. Place the butter in a strainer set over a bowl. Place the bowl over a larger bowl of ice water to form an ice bath.

2. In a heavy saucepan, whisk together the milk, maple syrup, salt and vanilla bean. Cook over medium-high heat, striring frequently, until the mixture comes to a boil, 5 to 7 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks and cornstarch.

4. Whisk one-half cup of the boiling half-and-half into the egg mixture to temper the eggs, then slowly stir the egg mixture into the hot liquid. Increase the heat to high and cook, whisking constantly (and scraping the sides and bottom of the pan), until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil.

5. Immediately remove the pan from heat and pour the mixture over the butter in the strainer. Strain the custard, then gently stir until the butter is completely incorporated. This makes about 3 cups custard.

6. Divide the custard between serving cups or ramekins. Place a sheet of plastic wrap over the surface of each custard to prevent a skin from forming, and set aside until cooled.

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MAPLE SYRUP GRADES EXPLAINED

Same syrup, new grades

In late January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture revised its voluntary maple syrup grading standards to match international standards. Because of increased demand for darker syrup for cooking and table use, the new classifications are meant to address producer concerns and customer confusion, and include color and flavor descriptors. Everything sold retail is now considered Grade A with these classifications.

Golden color with delicate taste (formerly Grade A light amber)

Amber color and rich taste (formerly Grade A medium and dark amber)

Dark color and robust taste (formerly Grade A dark amber and Grade B)

Very dark and strong taste (formerly Commercial grade)

ó Noelle Carter

 

 


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