Cooking Light (November 2015)
We just got back from a surprise long weekend in Montreal. Okay, it was a half of a surprise: Clay surprised Zach with a trip for his birthday! Clay told him to pack for cool weather, and then at the airport he hand him a packet marked "Bonjour!" that contained an itinerary, the Airbnb where we were staying, and restaurant reservations he'd already booked.
It was so fun! Have you been to Montreal? We hadn't. We spent the days poking around the city's great neighborhoods -- Vieux-Montréal, the Plateau, Mile End. And we spent the evenings stuffing our faces. (Okay, we did that during the day, too.)
We had some wonderful food. But the single predominant ingredients was, unsurprisingly, maple syrup. Quebec produces two-thirds of the maple syrup consumed in the world, and we saw it everywhere: on pancakes (obviously), in ice cream, in chocolates, in coffee, on pork chops, in cocktails, on foie gras. We were in love.
Now that we're back home, we basically want to pour maple syrup on top of everything.
This recipe for Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Maple Gastrique comes from Cooking Light and chef Hugh Acheson, who has made a name for himself cooking Southern classics at his trio of restaurants in the Atlanta area, and as a recurring judge on Top Chef.
But Hugh Acheson is not from the South. No, sir. He is from Ottawa, Ontario. And as he says in a note about this recipe:
"This dish is an example of the synergy of my Northern and Southern roots. My Canadian veins are partially full of maple syrup, and I adore the Southern staple crop of the sweet potato."
Sounds good to us.
So let's talk about this gastrique. Just as with an agrodolce, a gastrique is a possibly-intimidating-and-definitely-fancy-sounding way of saying "sweet and sour sauce." In the case of that agrodolce we made, the sweet-sour combo came from honey and red wine vinegar. Here, it's maple syrup and white balsamic vinegar. Same idea.
(By the way, we've said this before but let's say it again: Grade B syrup is better. Maple syrup grades are confusing. Grade A isn't any better or higher-quality than Grade B; it's just more refined. Which in this case means it's lighter in color and in flavor. If you want a darker, richer, bolder, more maple-y syrup, find yourself some Grade B. We've seen it lots of places, from farmers markets to specialty food shops to Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.)
The flavors here are simply wonderful. The maple syrup gives the gastrique a real complexity, a darker, almost burnt-sugar taste that's much more interesting than just "sweet." And the tang of the balsamic plays off that sweetness and actually highlights it even further.
In fact, if we had a quibble about this recipe, it's that we wanted more gastrique. Our advice? Double the recipe for the gastrique here. And while we're tinkering, the recipe calls for cooking the gastrique until it's "slightly syrupy." We'd suggest reducing it down a little more, so it's even thicker and more syrupy. Then it would be less of a "sauce" you "spoon" over the sweet potatoes, and more of a thicker glaze.
But really, those are small critiques. We really liked this dish a lot, and would happily recommend it for Thanksgiving -- or any other meal, actually.
Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Maple Gastrique
Cooking Light (November 2015), recipe by Hugh Acheson
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Nutritional information available at Cooking Light
Serves 6 (serving size: about 2/3 cup)
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/3-inch rounds
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
6 tablespoons maple syrup
6 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
2 1/2 tablespoons butter
3/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram leaves
Preheat oven to 400°.
Place sweet potatoes and 2 teaspoons salt in a large saucepan; cover with water to 2 inches above potatoes. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Drain potatoes.
Combine syrup and vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil; simmer 4 minutes or until slightly thickened and syrupy. Remove from heat; whisk in butter and pepper.
Coat an 11 x 7-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Arrange potatoes in a shingle pattern in dish. Top with syrup mixture; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and marjoram. Bake at 400° for 4 minutes or until potatoes are very tender. Remove from oven. Spoon sauce over potatoes; sprinkle with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt.