As an unapologetic Food geek, I scan menus for the way in which seasonal specials reflect the freshest ingredients. I’ve always associated maple syrup with the first chilly nights of fall and winter. While plenty of chefs seem to agree that we’re entering the months of maple, Brett Ottolenghi, whose company Artisanal Foods supplies restaurants and the public with gourmet ingredients, recently set me straight.
“The [maple] sap is generally flowing from about February through April. It depends on the weather and when it starts getting warm,” Ottolenghi says. I’ve known Ottolenghi long enough not to question his expertise. But if maple sap is a warm-weather product, why do I associate it with the cold? “That’s a good question,” he says, laughing. The simplest reason seems to be that maple just goes better with cold-weather ingredients. And unlike produce, it’s a product with a long shelf life; so you could harvest in warmer weather and put it up for use in winter. “It stores for a very long time,” he says.
That’s not to suggest that seasonality doesn’t play a role in the quality of true maple syrup. The earlier in the season the sap is harvested, the higher the quality, usually indicated by a lighter color and more delicate flavor. But whether you get grade “A Fancy,” “A,” “B” or “C” syrup, if it’s been properly prepared, it’ll be good for at least a year after it was harvested.
One to three taps can be applied to a sugar maple, which must be at least 30 years old before it’s tapped. The taps are connected to irrigation tubes that connect each tree in the forest to a central collection point, where it’s boiled down to create syrup. Depending on the sugar content, it takes 20-50 liters of sap to produce one liter of syrup. And the inexpensive stuff you see in your supermarket generally isn’t maple syrup—it’s high-fructose corn syrup colored to look like low-grade maple syrup.
“You’d think if you were making a fake product that you would make it taste like the best one or the highest grade,” Brett says in disbelief when I mention products like Mrs. Butterworth’s. “But most of those are made to taste and look closer to grade ‘B’.”
If you want to be sure you’re getting the real stuff, just look for the words “100 Percent Pure Maple Syrup” on the label. You can also find it on the tables year-round at the Griddle Café, or in the following dishes.
The sweet potato puree that accompanies Craftsteak’s turkey dinner is made with bourbon and Grade “A” Vermont maple syrup. Chef Michael Chapman says the booze and the syrup “add sweetness and balance” to the dish. In MGM Grand, 702-891-7318, MGMGrand.com.
For dessert, Andre’s pastry chef offers a poached Seckel pear baked with maple custard in almond cream served warm with an oatmeal streusel and cabernet sorbet. In Monte Carlo, 702-798-7151, AndreLV.com.
At the Country Club at Wynn, the chef tops his butternut squash soup with a maple Chantilly cream, macerated cranberries and pumpkin-spiced crystals. As the whipped cream melts, it adds sweetness to the soup. In Wynn, 702-770-3315, WynnLasVegas.com.
Cut steakhouse offers pork belly with a maple syrup glaze and Asian spices. It’s accompanied by watercress and huckleberry compote. In the Palazzo, 702-607-6300, WolfgangPuck.com.