Digging into a baked sweet potato makes me sigh with contentment. Extras like butter, salt and pepper are fine. I’ll even do a baked sweet potato casserole with pineapple chunks or maple syrup and butter. But truly, I prefer sweet potatoes baked absolutely plain.
Sweet potato trivia
- Christopher Columbus introduced sweet potatoes to Europe.
- Technically, the name of the vegetable is 1 word (as food writer and vegetable expert, Elizabeth Schneider explains in her book,Vegetables, from Amaranth to Zucchini) but since others use the 2-word version, I’ll be a conformist at least on this point.
- The vegetable we eat at Thanksgiving is a sweet potato, not a yam, no matter what its shape or size. Some varieties of sweet potatoes are called yams, but only because some U.S. sweet potato growers, adopted that name in an effort to differentiate their variety other sweet potatoes. The two vegetables – potatoes and yams – are not related. True yams are starchy and not sweet-tasting.
- The many varieties of sweet potatoes can be divided into 2 main groups: orange-fleshed (including Beauregard, Garnet, and boniato) and white/lighter-fleshed (some of which are called Oriental, Japanese or Korean sweets.)
Storing sweet potatoes
They are best stored only for short periods in a cool, dry place in an open basket or other well-ventilated holder. Do not refrigerate or leave unrefrigerated in a closed plastic bag.
Cooking sweet potatoes
You can boil, steam, bake or roast them. You can also fry or sauté them in thin slices, but that takes a fair amount of oil or butter. Microwaving sweet potatoes is not ideal. I prefer them baked or roasted because those methods intensify the potato’s flavor. In Roasting, Barbara Kafka defines the difference between roasting and baking potatoes as the use of fat in roasting, while baked potatoes can be cooked without any added fat.
Recently, I’ve baked sweet potatoes at a variety of temperatures from 350 degrees to 500 degrees. The baking time depends on the size of the potato, typically between 30 and 45 minutes. So far, I’ve found that higher temperatures work better – between 425 and 500 degrees for both orange and lighter-flesh varieties. The high temperature seems to make the inside creamier and it crisps up the skin.
The orange-fleshed varieties are supposed to be sweeter than the lighter fleshed ones, but I didn’t find that when I tasted them side-by-side. They definitely had different tastes, but I can’t describe the difference, other than to say both are delicious. Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are softer after cooking than the golden varieties, so if you’re making a mashed sweet potato casserole, the orange ones are preferable.
I bake both types of sweet potatoes whole (after washing the skin), placing them directly on the rack of a pre-heated oven with no oil or butter on the outside. Be careful not to burn yourself when removing the potatoes or checking them for doneness. If it’s easier, put them on a cookie sheet or in a pan with low sides.
You may want to try different varieties to see which one you like best. If you’re mashing a batch of potatoes, using only 1 variety. On the other hand, maybe you’d like to bake a bunch of different ones, cut them in half and have a tasting party during your Thanksgiving dinner.
Sweet potatoes aren’t just for Thanksgiving. I made a batch last week and enjoyed them as part of a “Meatless Monday” plate of baked and roasted vegetables. Yum.