Ask a Chef: How to Cook With Maple Syrup

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I have, on multiple occasions, refused breakfast because of the lack of real maple syrup. This seems ridiculous to a lot of people, because nobody in their right mind would usually turn down waffles, but there is a world of difference between the stuff they give you in diners and truly great maple syrup. 

If you, like me, have ever snuck a shot of grade A dark (formerly known as grade B) out of the fridge when no one is watching, perhaps you already know that maple syrup can be used for far more than just pancakes. But according to Brian Rowe, executive chef of Magnolia's on King in Alexandria, VA, not many people do. "I think it's more just a habitual thing. People don't think of using maple syrup combined with savory profiles." 

Go dark
The grades of maple syrup run from light and runny to dark and syrupy in texture. As a topping, go with whichever you happen to prefer, but when cooking you should go for the darker ones. "The first thing is color — you should not be able to see through it. The best is a deep mahogany color," says Rowe. "The next thing is viscosity. A good grade A, high-end maple syrup will pour closer to a stout beer than the typical syrup you buy off the shelf." You also want to use it sparingly when cooking because of its rich flavor. A little will absolutely go a long way when combined with brown butter or wine into a sauce.


Game is your friend
Whatever you do, don’t combine maple syrup with beef. It clashes with the meat's natural minerals. Other than that, it pairs well with nearly any other meat, like salmon or pork. Rowe especially enjoys it with game fowl like duck or squab. "The best combination being a maple-glazed duck with a maple-bacon reduction. The maple balances the gaminess of the duck better than any other sweet component," says Rowe. It also works as a quick glaze for vegetables. The sweetness goes well with things like pumpkin or butternut squash, but Rowe also likes them with crisp and savory green beans. "All you need to do is cook the beans the way you prefer, then dress them with a capful of fine-grade maple syrup and give them a quick toss before serving."

Breakfast, Dinner, and Dessert
Obviously maple syrup works great in desserts, whether it’s as a topping, whipped into butter as a spread, or baked in. If you’re going to substitute it for sugar in your baked goods, though, some math must be done. "In baking, I like to replace one cup of white sugar with 3/4 cup of maple syrup and reduce the other liquid ingredients in the recipe by 3 tablespoons, for every cup of maple syrup used," says Rowe. It'll also cause your baked goods to brown a little faster, which can be a good thing for fruit and vegetable loaves like zucchini and banana bread.