Maple Syrup: it's not just for breakfast anymore! I love pancakes and waffles as much as anyone. But for me, the depth of maple syrup's flavor is clearest when worked into savory options.
Chefs talk a lot about the balance of a dish. In my mind (and mouth) that simply means that no one flavor overpowers the others - that the combination of tastes either highlight or temper one another. Maple syrup is a strong flavor, no doubt about it. In these two recipes, I've balanced that flavor with either acidity or with salt and heat. In testing recipes for the column, I found that trying to balance something as sweet as maple syrup with something extremely bitter (like dandelion greens) didn't work for me. Instead of balancing the flavor it made it so pronounced that the only things tasted were extreme sweet and extreme bitter. Not the best.
The ideas for the recipes came from two co-workers, one current and one from long ago.
Brian Motyka was the first to speak up in Vie's kitchen when I posed the question, "If you guys had to convert maple syrup to a savory dish what would you do?" He said, "I'd make a gastrique. Maybe with red fruit and put it on duck." I ended up wanting to use pork (because we have a lot in our freezer) and instead pairing it with prunes. Prunes because I've always been interested in the French dish Porc avec Prune, which MFK Fisher claims is one of the few times that the French will put fruit in meat dishes.
The maple, soy sauce sweet potato comes from Skye Gyngell formerly of Petersham Nurseries in London. I cooked for Skye right after leaving Ballymaloe and her kitchen opened my eyes to how to bring ingredients together to form a dish-- ingredients I never would have put on the same shelf let alone plate. She made a sweet potato mash and used soy sauce and maple syrup to season it. I tasted it and thought that it needed more salt and she said, "Then it needs more maple too. Deepen all the flavors until they lift each other up. That is balance."