By Louise Duhamel Fine Dining Chef Instructor, New England Culinary Institute
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Sometimes I feel as if I have fallen into a maple syrup cauldron, the way the Obelix character in "Astérix and Obelix" cartoon series falls into the magical potion. I love that sweet stuff and I always seem to want more. Born in Quebec, on the south shore of Montreal, I was raised by parents who came from families living on farms. Most of them still live along the Richelieu River where the best maple syrup farms are. Yes, I maintain what I am saying; no offense to Vermonters. I am not impartial in this matter, and I like to keep it this way. Though I will say, Vermont syrup is not bad at all.
I remember the fun we had as kids, at my father's cousin's sugar house, following the adults picking up the maple water, eating scrambled eggs poached in maple syrup, tasting my grandpa's "réduit," to which he always added a bit of brandy. It was always a great family reunion, especially on Easter Sunday, when chocolate and maple syrup were our high sugar diet of the day! When I graduated from Université du Québec with a degree in communications, I was lucky to find myself promoting lots of great artisan products made in Quebec: maple syrup, apple butter, maple toffee, maple liquor. I loved telling people how good maple syrup was on pancakes, waffles, French toast, and bread pudding; how it gave just the right sweetness to grapefruit or a strawberry salad with fresh ground pepper. One of my favorite uses then was grated maple sugar on a thick slice of homemade bread, served with heavy cream.
Later when I became a professional cook, I started to explore the use of maple syrup in savory cooking, and found another dimension to it. Of course, my mother used to serve it over ham … with pineapple! I developed my own recipes, a series of delicious dishes such as crispy quail salad with a warm maple and mint vinaigrette; a seared salmon with maple soy glaze; duck breast with ginger, coriander and maple gastrique; potato wrapped scallops with maple tomato "ketchup;" maple glazed carrots with venison.My love story with maple syrup continues with this recipe for pork tenderloin with maple, sherry, raisin and pine nut sauce, for four people. I hope you enjoy this dish.
Equipment:1 medium size sauté pan that can go into oven1 slicing knife1 cutting board1 serving spoon1 whisk1 quart heavy-bottomed stainless-steel pot that does not react to acid foodOven at 350F
Ingredients:24 ounces pork tenderlointo taste salt and pepper as needed;vegetable oil1/2 cup Vermont maple syrup1/2 cup sherry vinegar2 quarts veal stock (available in specialty food stores or make your own)3 tablespoons golden raisins3 tablespoons currants3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (pignolia)juice 1/2 lemon1/2 teaspoon lemon zest3 tablespoons butter from Vermont Butter and Cheese Company
Gastrique is a thick sauce produced by caramelizing sugar (in this case maple syrup) and reducing vinegar (sherry vinegar). Often gastrique will be fruity (golden raisins and currants). Reduction is the process of thickening a liquid (gastrique plus veal stock) by evaporation. As simple as this recipe is, there are a few steps that need attention. Slow cooking the sauce is a must; otherwise the amount of sugar in this sauce will develop into bitter flavor. So be patient because sauce will take some time to make; this is why you want to start making the sauce before cooking the pork.
Pour the maple syrup and the sherry vinegar into the sauce quart pot. Heat over medium heat. Reduce gastrique until evaporated by half. You should see lots of bubbles developing on the surface of the reduction. Add veal stock and bring to a simmer. Simmer the sauce until it is "nappé," which means that the sauce should coat the back of a wooden spoon.Add raisins, currants, pine nuts, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Whisk in the butter (at NECI we would say "monté" with butter, because the richness of the butter will expand the sauce and give it a nice mouth feel). Add freshly ground pepper to taste. Notice that I am not adding any salt. Salt would bring down both the sweet and the acid taste, which are needed for a good balanced flavor.Keep the sauce on very low heat or over a double boiler to keep it warm until needed.Meanwhile pork should be cooking. Season the pork tenderloin well with salt and pepper. Sear on all sides in a hot sauté pan. Finish cooking your pork in the oven at 350F for about 25 minutes for medium (rosé or "à point" for me). Pull pork from oven, cover with foil, and let rest on a rack for 10 minutes. Resting meat prevents juices from leaking out of the meat and makes it tender.After it has rested, slice the pork tenderloin and fan it evenly on to 4 warm plates. (I always serve hot food on warm plates; it keeps your food at temperature for longer time). Pour 2 tablespoons of sauce over the sliced pork (or much if you like it so much!)
I like to serve this dish with roasted vegetables. Since you need your oven turned on anyway, you might as well take advantage of it. I usually choose what is in season, although I do have a preference for baby carrots, turnips, beets, celery root, and fingerling potatoes. Green or red braised cabbage would be also delicious. If you prefer more texture on the plate, julienne (cut into fine strips) the cabbage and simply stir fry it Chinese style. I would then add a little bit of ginger to the maple sherry sauce. You could also try to substitute many other fruits, both fresh and dried, for the raisins: dried cranberry, cherry, blueberry, apple, peaches, pear, pineapple, melon, banana, mango, papaya, cantaloupe … alleluia!