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Sweet Sweet Tubers

May 21, 2009

This is about baking sweet potatoes.  Scratch that.  This is about baking the best sweet potatoes you will ever eat.

It is not a fussy rant about the difference between sweet potatoes and yams, and what is truly a sweet potato, and what is truly a yam, and how people get them confused, etc.

Just so we are clear.  We are talking about the things you get in the supermarket, and they are generally called sweet potatoes.  They have orange flesh and brownish-reddish skin and tend to be pointy on the ends.  That’s all we have to concern ourselves with at the moment.

This is a technique I learned from Cooks Illustrated.  If you do not subscribe to Cooks Illustrated online, I strongly suggest that you take it under serious consideration.  They are fussy in all the right ways.  A subscription is expensive, but it is a lot less expensive than buying the full set of annual compendiums.  Plus you have the added convenience of being able to quickly search and access your favorite recipes wherever you have internet access.

And while many of the techniques and recipes from Cooks Illustrated are neither quick nor easy, the baked sweet potatoes are.

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2) Wash and dry sweet potatoes.
3) Prick them three times with a fork.
4) Rub their skins with oil – I use canola but you could use olive or vegetable.
5) Place them on a foil lined cookie sheet in the middle rack of the oven.
6) Cook the crap out of them, and don’t touch them for 40-70 minutes.

The timing is a bit funky because sweet potatoes vary in size so dramatically.  When you are cooking these, try to bake potatoes that are about the same size.  Just remember, it is best to stay away from the enormous ones.

Here is what will happen.  The water in the potato will heat up and turn to steam.  The steam will escape from the holes you pricked.  You will hear them hissing.  The sugars will start to liquify and bubble out.  They will caramelize on the skin and the foil-lined pan.  You will smell the sweet and bitter smell of sugar burning.

If you wish, you can probably turn off the oven but leave the door closed at this point.  The potatoes will continue to cook, but the juices will not burn as badly.  It’s a matter of personal taste and tolerance for the smell.

Officially they are done when a knife tip meets no resistance when put in the middle of the sweet potato.

What you will find, to your shock and amazement, that the flesh inside the skin is almost custardy.  By not moving the potatoes while they cooked, and letting the water escape, the sweet orange flesh has concentrated and collapsed upon itself.  By oiling the skin, it has created a thin papery crust with just enough tooth to complement the interior.

If you like, and why wouldn’t you, top with butter, salt and black pepper.  Although I have to say that these potatoes do not need butter.  They are sweet and creamy on their own.  Seriously, they’re crazy good.

Whenever I make these, I bake off as many sweet potatoes as can sensibly fit on my baking sheet.  Generally I max out at around six pounds.  The leftovers can be made into a wide variety of sweet or savory dishes.

We are not there yet.  We are still working through the basics.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 21, 2009 3:29 pm

    Sweet potatoes are something I’m trying to get used to. At the moment I like them just done in the microwave without anything on them. Baked are ok, but they get almost too sweet and custardy, and I have this really annoying dislike of something I mentally view as a non-dessert being like a dessert.

    And as fries. But really, it’s hard to find someone who dislikes something deep fried.

  2. omaxwell permalink
    May 22, 2009 9:35 pm

    I am going to try this for sure. But being from the South I cannot avoid pointing out that yams (the tuber with the orange flesh which is what you’ll almost certainly find at the supermarket) and sweet potatoes (with a much lighter colored flesh, almost white) are not the same thing.

    In my experience true sweet potatoes are less sweet. So let’s throw this down with some of those big boys and let’s see what we get!

  3. Ellen W. permalink
    May 23, 2009 9:37 pm

    What does the oil add? How much different would these come out if you skipped that part?

  4. kimberlychica permalink
    May 24, 2009 1:55 pm

    I am soooooo excited to try this method of cooking sweet potatoes..I’m a bit obsessed with them – I made a sweet potato bisque last week with applewood smoked bacon and black bean puree…yumm…I’m also really into leeks lately, panfried with butter, vidalias, and sugar – I love veggies that caramelize well!

  5. May 24, 2009 9:17 pm

    Tried this the other day and it turned out pretty well, but not as sublime as I had hoped. In the interest of fussiness, I must offer up my own personal favorite thing to do with a sweet potato:

    Dan, really enjoying the blog. This is great stuff. Thinking hard about cappuccino’s now.

  6. Tonia permalink
    May 26, 2009 4:46 pm

    I actually make mine like this without the oil and the pricking and they still come out just as delicious. How can you not love all that dark brown sugary, creamy yumminess? I agree they don’t even need the butter!


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