What are the country's culinary professionals doing with maple? Six chefs gave us a low-down of their sugar highs.
Born and raised in New Orleans, chef John Russ began his career at the Ritz Carlton, then moved on to John Besh's acclaimed Restaurant August. He is now the executive chef at Besh's Lüke San Antonio.
I lived in New Hampshire for two years and—no kidding—people drank maple syrup, which I thought was crazy until I tried it. It's really unhealthy, I'm sure, but so delicious.
When people candy things, they usually use glucose, corn syrup, and inverted sugar. But maple syrup is already there with a ton of flavor that gets insane when you reduce it further. Get a half gallon of the really good, expensive stuff, and reduce it down until it gets white and bubbly and the sugar starts to caramelize. Then toast some nuts and toss them in until they get sorta crumbly. We add various spice blends, and I've seen people put Tabasco in it to make it spicy and sweet, which is really good. It takes a little physical strength to stir the pot, but as soon as the nuts are cool they're like eating heaven.
Maple Brown Butter Glaze
Alex Figura worked at Vetri Ristorante, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, El Cellar de can Roca, and Frasca Food & Wine before becoming chef/partner of Lower48, a Denver restaurant with "Best New Restaurant" accolades from 5280 magazine and Denver Westword.
We have a dessert grilled cheese made with brioche, sharp white cheddar, whiskey ice cream, bacon, pickled pears, and a maple syrup butter glaze. It's great in the winter.
We brown the butter and strain it, so we end up with a browned clarified butter with toasty notes and nutty flavors. Then we mix one part maple syrup and one part brown butter and keep it warm. The mixture does separate over time, so you have to stir, but then you can pour it over anything for some rich sweetness.
Candied Meat Rub
Jeffrey Saad is the owner and executive chef of Studio City's La Ventura, offering customers his interpretations of traditional Mexican cuisine curated through his own travels to Mexico. He is also responsible for San Francisco's Sweet Heat and Pasta Pomodoro restaurants.
Maple syrup's got that great deep, woodsy sweetness that really goes with almost everything, and it candies well, which is cool. Mix it with ground coffee and chilies and rub it on pork chops, or mix a little with dried chilies and baste your Thanksgiving turkey with it. Either way, it will caramelize the skin with sweetness and smoke.
Jeff Mahin is a chef/partner at Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises and the creative force behind Stella Barra Pizzeria (Santa Monica, Hollywood, Chicago, DC opening winter 2014), Summer House Santa Monica (Chicago, DC opening winter 2014), and M Street Kitchen (Santa Monica). Mahin has accumulated several industry accolades including Zagat's "30 under 30", Forbes "30-under-30" list of hospitality industry up-and-comers and Restaurant Hospitality's "13 to watch in 2013."
I love brown butter maple syrup marshmallows in hot chocolate. We make brown butter all the time at the restaurants, and when you strain it out you're left with these solid milk proteins that have all the flavor of the toasted butter. We use those bits with maple syrup while we're whipping the marshmallow. Strain the browned butter through a coffee filter or something, then add it to a marshmallow batter at the stage where you're melting butter, sugar, and maple syrup together before whipping. We also add sea salt, since sea salt goes with maple syrup and butter like peas with carrots, to go Forrest Gump on you. The marshmallow is a maple-salty-syrup thing that's just awesome with hot chocolate. And we've put them in chocolate muffins. Yeah, they're good.
Chef Richard Capizzi comes from a traditional Italian family, and as pastry chef of New York's Lincoln Ristorante, his heritage serves him well. There he combines his family's knowledge of Italian sweets with classic pastry technique.
I can't even tell you how much I love maple syrup; it's always in my pantry at Lincoln, even in the off season. As pastry chefs, we're always looking for flavor that comes naturally; you don't want to use white cane sugar if you can use honey or maple. We use a lot of Crown Maple, based out of upstate New York, as they have amazing products. I only want Grade B maple syrup; it has more impurities, so it's much darker and has more molasses flavor.
Gelato would get destroyed by the amount of Grade A maple syrup you'd need to add to it to make it a maple gelato; you can't go past 27% sugar or it won't freeze. So how do I get the natural maple syrup flavor without cooking it down? I use Grade B.
I make a crème anglaise with one liter of milk, one liter of heavy cream, 20 egg yolks, and 225 grams of Grade B or dark amber maple syrup (you can scale this down for home machines), strain it, and cool it down over ice. In a small stock pot, bring one liter of water, 400 grams of maple syrup, 10 grams of sorbet stabilizer, 30 grams of maple sugar, 30 grams of molasses, and a pinch of salt to a boil. Then cool the syrup over ice, combine the two mixtures, and store them overnight in the fridge to mature the flavors. Then whisk them together before pouring into an ice cream machine until you get a soft serve texture; don't over spin. Freeze and store for two to three weeks.
Smoked Maple Fluff
James "Mac" Moran is the executive chef and partner of the Rusty Mackerel in New York's Washington Heights, where he's turning out bright, seasonal food and working on fostering community and food sustainability in his urban neighborhood.
We do a chicken dish with roasted sweet potatoes, and I wanted to put maple syrup on the dish, but since maple syrup's a liquid it doesn't sit well. So we use a smoking stick to smoke the maple syrup, letting it sit overnight to really take in the smoky flavor. And then we use a chemical called Versawhip—basically modified tapioca starch—and blend that into the maple syrup. We then put the syrup into a mixer with a whisk attachment and whip it until it's like a meringue. You can then pipe it onto the sweet potatoes, adding a little bit of soy sauce if you like for seasoning, so that you have sweet, salty and smoke. It's like marshmallow fluff, basically.
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