It’s Vermont’s first crop of the year! Once you spy steam escaping from your neighbor’s sugarhouse, you know spring is truly here, even if it is snowing.
The temperatures have been above freezing during the day (barely) and below freezing at night, and that means the sap is running in Vermont, the nation’s largest producer of liquid gold. The governor made his ritual tree tapping event this week, and with March here, we can call it spring, although it’s been snowing for days.
The Vermont Flower Show
It actually felt like real spring for a while this weekend since we finally got to go to the spectacular Vermont Flower Show, absent since 2019 because of the pandemic. It was a wonderful show “Out of Hibernation: Spring comes to the 100-Acre Wood,” and Pooh and all his friends were well represented with enchanting floral displays throughout the indoor woods. Much needed and very good for the heart. Beautiful blooms and the smell of the earth; we didn’t even mind standing in line in frigid temperatures waiting for tickets!
Honey and maple abound in the 100-Acre Wood
While Pooh made sure honey was in abundance with the vendors, maple was on my mind. That first stack of pancakes drizzled with gold is a reward hard won at the end of a cold winter, and we all have our favorites. The golden, light-colored syrup harvested at the beginning of sugaring has the most delicate flavor, and this progress of color and maple intensity increases through the weeks. The darker syrups from the end of the season have the deepest maple flavor. This is not only my preference, but the best for cooking as well.
Vermont sugar makers simplified the grading of maple syrup a few years ago, and the USDA has adopted this system. Syrup is now all Grade A, with color and flavor variations now simply listed as golden, amber, dark, and very dark. The flavor of the syrup will vary greatly from sugarbush to sugarbush, from week to week, and from year to year. The terroir of the syrup is dependent on many factors. To learn more about this taste of place, the local university of Vermont and the state’s agriculture agency put toghether a “Taste of place map” that helps define some of the nuances.
What do you like?
It is all about what you like best, and how you are using it. For instance, if you are using a delicate herb in the syrup for a glaze, use something light-colored and flavored. When baking, use the darker syrups because the heat from the baking process dims the natural flavor, sometimes to nothing. I remember trying to recreate a maple-oat bread I had at a local restaurant, and could not get nearly enough of the maple flavor. When I finally coaxed the secret from the chef, he admitted to using a natural maple extract in addition to the syrup in order to boost the flavor, but my mother had already guessed that. If you use an extract, make sure it is a natural maple extract and not something synthetic.
Infusing Liquid Gold
Infusing maple syrup is a great way to use that liquid gold with a multitude of flavors, and extending its use way beyond pancakes. New England cooks have long infused maple syrup with berries for a sweet topping, and no special recipe required; just simmer about a cup of syrup with about a cup of berries for about 10 minutes. You can strain it, or leave the berries whole.
A simple process
That is just the beginning of the story. Maple syrup is easy to infuse for use with both sweet and savory dishes. The technique is simple. Warm the syrup with whatever it is you want it to marry, heat to a simmer for five minutes, and set it aside until cool. Strain if desired. Most are stable in the refrigerator for months.
Sambuca and fennel, perfect with salmon
This recipe uses Sambuca infused maple syrup in a simple three-ingredient glaze, which includes a little soy sauce and flavorful miso, a bit of salt to balance the sweet. Use the concoction to marinate, baste, and sauce the fish for enhanced flavor.
Serve this on a bed of simple sautéed sliced leeks and fennel bulbs, or think of spring and pair with sugar snap peas and fresh pea shoots.
Wild salmon is always best, so when it is season in the summer, this is always the best bet. I don’t like the texture of any salmon that’s been frozen, so I look for fresh organic farmed salmon, or fresh, farmed salmon from the Faroe Islands at this time of year. It is always delicious. This salmon has tons of flavor and is raised in carefully controlled conditions that ensure healthy fish, farmed in cold waters, with a quick trip to the states. Read more.
Even Pooh might trade in his honey for maple syrup if served this dish, at least for a day!
Salmon Glazed with Sambuca Maple Syrup
- ¼ cup Sambuca infused maple syrup, recipe below
- 2 tbsp. red miso paste
- 1 tbsp. soy sauce
- 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 2 scallions, sliced thin
- 4 salmon filets, around 5 ounces each
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Olive oil
Lightly salt and pepper salmon. Whisk together the infused maple syrup, miso paste, soy sauce, and scallions. Pour most into a shallow bowl (save a bit for drizzling later) and add the salmon filets to marinate for 30 minutes at room temperature, flesh side down.
Meanwhile, heat your oven to 450 degrees and place your baking pan or cast-iron frying pan on the middle rack to heat it up as well. This starts the cooking of your fish immediately and evenly once it is placed on the hot pan.
When the oven and pan are hot, add a tablespoon or so of olive oil to the pan to cover the bottom. Place the salmon in the pan, skin side down, with room between each filet. Cook for five minutes, then brush with more glaze, reserving some for a sauce at the end. Put back in the oven for another three or four minutes, careful not to overcook.
Overcooking any fish results in a dry dish, so err on the side of a little under because you will have some carry over cooking after you take it out. Slip a sharp paring knife in the middle and peek a minute or so before you think it will be done, judging by how it felt at the earlier glazing. You will want the salmon to be a little opaque in the middle, and cooked to a medium only.
Drizzle the filets with a little more of the glaze.
Sambuca Maple Syrup
- 1 cup dark amber Vermont maple syrup
- ¼ cup dark Sambuca
- ½ tsp. fennel seeds, crushed
Combine ingredients and bring to a simmer over medium low heat. Shut off heat and let sit until cool. Strain the seeds out if you like (I did not for this dish). Store in the refrigerator.
For more infused maple or honey ideas, check out this page: Infused Maple Syrups.
The Enchanting Vermont Flower Show 2023:
Eeyore’s Gloomy Place:
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