There’s a world of difference between what’s sold as maple syrup in stores and pure maple syrup itself. When you’re scanning the shelves for maple syrup and you plonk a bottle of Pancake syrup in your shopping basket, that’s you settling for a product which is basically just high fructose corn syrup flavoured with 2 % maple syrup. So is what you’re buying the real deal? No, it’s not. You’re buying corn syrup, which is the leading cause of obesity in present day America. Debunking that and switching to a substitute isn’t just a healthier option, it’s also more delicious.
A quick taste test of two kinds of pancake syrups and a 100 % pure maple syrup will be enough to convert you. The corn syrup-based maple syrup from a commercial brand tastes very slightly of maple, but intensely sweet. The sugar-free version while not as sweet, has no body, a whole lot of SPLENDA, and the maple flavour is absent. Both are no match for the taste of 100 % pure maple syrup which boasts an even, smooth maple flavour, complete with a hint of bitterness at the end which stops it from being overly sweet and boasts medium body.
A good quality 100 % pure maple syrup, the kinds that are graded like balsamico cost quite a bit because to produce a small batch, a whooping quantity of sap must be boiled and filtered till it has reduced by more than 3/4th the amount. The maple syrup is then graded on the basis of its colour. The darker it is, the more nutty and intense the maple flavour. I love me a robust maple syrup that’s dark like molasses and rich in body.
Usually I reach for the bottle of maple syrup a bit begrudgingly because it’s so expensive and use it mostly for desserts, specially for my Funfetti birthday cake. The salted maple frosting cuts nicely through the sweet birthday cake, but over time I’ve realised that maple syrup really shines in savoury uses. Think maple and soy glaze for chicken wings, maple and mustard cooked down with pork, or as a simple dressing for a salad of grains, beets and walnuts. We’re not just talking swapping it as a healthier sweetener in place of sugar, because there’s tons more flavour it packs into a small drizzle that enhances the profile of both sweet as well as savoury dishes.
The recipes I’ve made are pretty straightforward and use seasonal Bhavnagri chillies. These are the less-spicy variety that you would ideally use to make stuffed chillies or make pakoras with. Make sure you pick chillies that aren’t bruised in any way and look crisp. You should be able to find bottles of 100 % Pure Maple Syrup at many gourmet stores across the city. Brands to look out for may be Epicure, Cleary’s, Bernard, if you’re looking for some legit options to consider.
Bacon, Chilli and Maple Relish
Standard bacon jam is blasé now. Give it a facelift with strong Bhavnagri chillies or charred bell peppers for a different taste. This relish is smoky, sweet, spicy, all bundled into one cracker of a spread.
Bhavnagari chillies 2-3 large ones for a more savoury jam or Red bell pepper 1 for a heady, sweet one
Bacon 1 packet of 200g, preferably with a bit of fat still on
Onion 1, cut into small dices
Garlic 1 tbsp minced
100 % Pure Maple syrup 1/4 cup
Hot coffee 1/2 cup
If you are working with the Bhavnagri chillies, halve them lengthwise and chop it roughly. If you’re using the red bell peppers, char them on a naked flame till they are charred all over. Place in a plastic bag to cool, then take it out and scrape off any burned bits. Keep the burned bits on if you want extra smokey notes in your bacon jam. Set this aside.
In a shallow pan with a lid, cook the bacon till it renders its fat and starts to brown at the edges. Drain the bacon onto paper towels and pour off everything but 2 tsp of the fat.
Add the onions to this and sauté till translucent. Add in the garlic and the Bhavnagri chillies if using and cook it for a whole minute, then proceed to splash in the coffee and the 100 % Pure Maple Syrup, prod at the bits of bacon stuck to the base of the pan to release it, and cook this over medium high heat for about 5 minutes.
Take the pan off the heat and let it cool a bit before transferring the contents of the pan into a mixer grinder with the red bell pepper and blitz.
Add the blitzed mixture back to the saucepan and heat the mixture over medium high heat till it is evenly hot, before turning down the temperature to low and letting it reduce gently for an hour at least uncovered. Check on the contents of the pan periodically to see that nothing is sticking and if it is drying out to your satisfaction. The low and slow cooking is what lends that jammy stickiness to the relish. An hour worked for me, but if you want your relish drier, just keep cooking it down for another half an hour over low heat.
Serve spread over fresh bread or inside lamb burgers with some mayo