Sunday Supper

Earthy sweetness of maple syrup perfect for the holidays


Main Dish

Maple-Glazed Cornish Hens with Cornbread and Pancetta Stuffing

If you’re having a small holiday gathering, these single-serving birds would be a lovely, time-saving alternative to turkey. Round out the meal with sweet potatoes, green beans and cranberry sauce. Beaujolais nouveau has just been released and would be a perfect accompaniment.

14 ounces cornbread (favorite recipe or mix)

7 ounces pancetta

2 ribs celery, finely chopped

1⁄2 onion, finely chopped

1 small egg

Leaves from 3 sprigs fresh thyme

Salt and pepper

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

6 Cornish hens

For the glaze:

2/3 cup maple syrup

1 clove garlic, crushed

Hot sauce (such as Tabasco), to taste

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. To make the stuffing, crumble the cornbread into a bowl. Cut the pancetta into meaty chunks and fry it in its own fat until colored on all sides. Add to the cornbread. In the same pan, sauté the celery and onion until they are soft but not colored. Mix with the cornbread and add the egg, thyme and some salt and pepper. Fork the butter through as well. Wash the insides of the hens well, dry with paper towels and season the insides with salt and pepper. Fill the hens with the stuffing and tie with string.

To make the glaze, boil the maple syrup until it is reduced by a third. Mix with the garlic and hot sauce and brush or spoon over the birds. (You won’t use all of it — keep some back for basting.) Season well with salt and pepper.

Cook the birds for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the juices run clear when you poke a knife between the body of the bird and the thigh. Baste often with the cooking juices and the rest of the maple syrup. Makes 6 servings.

Source: Adapted from “Roast Figs, Sugar Snow” by Diana Henry (Mitchell Beazley, $19.99)

Per serving: 1100 calories (55 percent from fat), 66.5 g fat (21.8 g saturated, 22.7 g monounsaturated), 426 mg cholesterol, 69 g protein, 53 g carbohydrates, 1.8 g fiber, 882 mg sodium.

When you want to add sweetness to your holiday meals, consider using maple syrup, which contains fewer calories and a higher concentration of minerals than sugar or honey.

Pure maple syrup is more expensive than maple-flavored pancake syrup but its unique flavor makes it worth the money. This thick amber liquid with its distinctive, earthy sweetness is made from the sap of the sugar, black or red maple tree.

Native Americans used the syrup as a food and a medicine. The process begins with tapping the tree, which allows the sap to run out freely. The sap, which is clear, flavorless and very low in sugar, is boiled to evaporate the water and concentrate the flavor. It requires 40 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup.

All maple syrups are labeled with a grade based on a U.S. Department of Agriculture system. The lighter the color, the more subtle the flavor.

Unopened containers of maple syrup can be stored in a cool dry place, but once opened they should be refrigerated. If any mold appears in the syrup, even just on the surface, you should discard the container.

Here are a few ideas for using maple syrup in the kitchen:

• Pour it on oatmeal topped with walnuts and raisins.

• Add it along with cinnamon to puréed cooked sweet potatoes.

• Combine it with orange juice and soy sauce to use as a marinade for salmon, spare ribs or baked tofu.

• Combine it with olive oil, pour over cut-up root vegetable (carrots, parsnips, butternut squash, turnips) and roast for a delicious side dish.

• Combine it with butter and brown sugar and fill the cavities of apples before baking.

Carole Kotkin is manager of the Ocean Reef Club cooking school and co-author of “Mmmmiami: Tempting Tropical Tastes for Home Cooks Everywhere.”

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