It’s not just for pancakes anymore.
Maple syrup, once relegated to the breakfast table, is showing up in recipes for everything from appetizers to entrees, as local food fans rediscover the flavor and versatility of the uniquely North American product.
“So many people are under the impression that maple syrup is just for pancakes or waffles,” said Indiana syrup producer Tim Burton, of Burton’s Maplewood Farm, Medora.
He supplies maple syrup to restaurants in Chicago and sells it at Chicago’s Green City Market as well as Indianapolis farmers markets.
“I think you’re going to see more chefs reaching out to farmers and producers,” Burton said.
Michael Goering, one of Indiana’s largest maple syrup producers, said interest in the product is indeed growing.
“Demand for maple syrup is just staggering,” said Goering, who attributes much of the growth to consumers’ rejection of high-fructose corn syrup and their increasing desire for local foods.
But for chefs, the appeal is all about flavor.
Local chef Brad Gates, who launched a catering business (www.bradgatescatering.com), said he often uses maple syrup in his cooking. Gates likes the flavor that it adds to everything from salad dressings to sauces to desserts.
“I find it to be more complex than just sugar,” he said. “It adds much more diversity if you use maple syrup — as long as it’s a good one.”
At Oakleys Bistro, 1464 W. 86th St., you’ll find crab risotto cakes made with a butternut maple puree ($11.75), as well as chef/owner Steven Oakley’s popular butternut squash maple soup ($6.75). Palomino, 49 W. Maryland St., features a maple chicken salad ($17) with a grilled maple-marinated chicken breast and maple vinaigrette; Meridian Restaurant and Bar, 5694 N. Meridian St., uses a maple vinaigrette on its house salad ($7.25).
But we’re not talking pancake syrup. Most national brands are made of corn syrup, often with artificial coloring and imitation maple flavor. Pure maple syrup contains no other ingredients; it’s made by boiling the sap of sugar maple trees.
Indiana maple syrup is available at shops such as Goose the Market, 2503 N. Delaware St., where it is $15 for an 8-ounce bottle. The gift shop of the Indiana State Museum, 650 W. Washington St., stocks Indiana syrup; it can be ordered directly from producers. Maple syrup produced elsewhere, often Vermont or Canada, can be found at larger supermarkets for around $10 for a 12.5-ounce bottle.”I definitely want to buy local,” said Gates, “but if not local, I’ll go for Vermont.”
Vermont produced more than 900,000 gallons last year, more than twice as much as Maine, for example, its closest U.S. competitor. Indiana does not rank among the top 10 syrup-producing states; it produced nearly 8,500 gallons of maple syrup last year.
It’s Canada that produces most of the world’s maple syrup, about 80 percent, mostly in the province of Quebec. But whatever its origin, pure maple syrup adds an appealing layer of flavor to recipes. Many cooks prefer the darker Grade B syrup, which has a stronger maple flavor, to the light amber-colored Grade A.
“We sell more Grade B maple syrup than Grade A,” said Goering, whose operation, called Leane and Michael’s Sugarbush, is located near Salem.
Either type will work fine in the recipes that Gates created recently for Taste, dishes that range from a maple-ginger vinaigrette and Maple-Cured Salmon to a Butternut Squash Puree (that he served with duck confit) and Maple Crème Brulee.
While all the dishes showcase the syrup, Gates’ Maple Crème Brulee also features an additional element: maple sugar, made by boiling maple syrup until it crystallizes into sugar.
“The maple sugar just makes it,” Gates said of his crème brulee, although he noted that maple sugar cannot be used for the dessert’s caramelized sugar topping; it will burn instead of melting as white sugar does.
“Everyone loves it,” he said. “It’s simple, it’s decadent. It’s familiar, but it’s not something you have every day.”