Early every spring, on a family farm in Lander, Pennsylvania, friends of ours engage in the annual tradition of “sugaring.” The labor of love requires hand-drilling their Maple trees, removing hundreds of gallons of sap, boiling it down, to be rewarded with a sweet, sticky condiment that goes far beyond pancakes.
As they were engaged in this process, I was coincidently reading a book called “The Dirty Life”, a true story in which a woman leaves her chic New York City life as a travel writer to work on a farm and start a year-round farm share with a man she ultimately married. (Great read, by the way!)
In the book, they were boiling down hundreds of gallons of sap, just as my friends were doing the same in Landers. The sap is boiled in an “evaporator” which has a huge fire burning underneath and must be tended constantly. Amazingly, it takes about 45 gallons of sap to yield one gallon of syrup. The sugaring season occurs in the spring, when temperatures dip below freezing at night, and are above freezing during the day. Depending entirely on the weather, the season can start in February and last until April.
I have long cooked and baked with maple syrup for its robust sweetness. A natural sweetener, it pairs well with savory dishes and provides a sweet counter-balance to tangy ingredients like Dijon mustard and apple cider vinegar. One of my all-time favorite salad dressings is Maple-Dijon Vinaigrette in which these ingredients are simply yet so perfectly balanced. I have, in turn, used that on roasted vegetables for delicious twist.
When we received a tin of this incredible syrup as a generous gift, I was inspired to cook with it in new ways. The following salmon recipe is sure to be a year-round favorite in our house, and perhaps in yours. It is easy enough for a casual weeknight meal but special enough for company.
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground ancho chile powder (could substitute regular chile powder)
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 4 (6-ounce) fillets Alaskan salmon
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
Combine paprika, ancho chili powder, cumin, brown sugar, and salt. Rub the spice mixture over the salmon. Place salmon on a baking sheet (see tip) and broil for 6 minutes or until not quite cooked through. Remove from the oven, baste with the maple syrup, and broil for 1 minute or until nicely glazed and barely cooked through.
The salmon will continue cooking a bit once removed from oven, so be sure not to overcook. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to take a knife and cut just enough to peek inside.
- Line your baking sheet with foil–do not grease–and place the salmon fillets skin side down. Once cooked, the skin will stick to the foil and you can gently slip your spatula between the skin and the flesh. This is an easy way to remove the skin and makes clean up a snap!