Potato, My Sweet

The Kitchen

GUEST: Sweet Potato Agent

AB: [reading from a fact sheet] Vitamin C, vitamin E, protein, foliate, six times the RDA of vitamin A. Impressive.
SWEET POTATO AGENT: And he's a known cancer-fighter!
AB: Well your client certainly has some handsome nutritional credentials, but ...
SA: And more dietary fiber than a bowl of oatmeal!
AB: Well, fiber's nice, but it's not very sexy, now is it?
SA: Um, no.
AB: And let's face it. Your client's just not much to look at, is he?
SA: Uh, uh, no. But every meal needs a versatile supporting player, someone who can complement a wide range of textures and flavors. My client does it all, Mr. Brown: sweet, savory, you name it! Why, one food critic even dubbed him "the pork of the root world."
AB: "Pork of the root world." Nice accolade. Well, I tell you what. We'll uh, we'll think about it and get back to you.
SA: Well, I ... I knew it was a long shot. Thank you for your time.
AB: [tries to hand SA the fact sheet back]
SA: Oh no, no. Keep it.
AB: Okay, I'll file that with my other, my other vegetables.
SA: Of course, I'd hoped the rumors weren't true.
AB: Rumors? What rumors?
SA: That you're afraid of sweet potatoes.
AB: What?!
SA: It's in your Food Network profile. [ed: it's been removed, read FAQ #19]
AB: I am ... I am not afraid of sweet potatoes! It's just that ... You should have seen what my grandmother did to those things. Oh!
SA: It was the marshmallows, wasn't it?
AB: [hangs head, nods]
SA: It took me years to get him out of that contract. I begged him not to sign, but would he listen? [starting to cry] There's only so much an agent can do.
AB: Look, settle down. Will he do his own stunts?
SA: Ah, hmm hmm hmm. [stabs sweet potato with a pencil] Ahh! Grrr ... Hah.
AB: All right, listen. I'm going to give the kid a shot.
SA: Ohh! You won't regret this, Mr. Brown. You give my client a few decent tools and a little know-how, and we'll make him a star!
AB: Wait a second. This show's already got a star. [plays to camera] What I really need are just a few good ...

Whole Foods Market: Atlanta, GA - 10:57 am

GUEST: Deb Duchon, Nutritional Anthropologist

    Despite the name, sweet potatoes are not merely potatoes that happen to be sweet. In fact, botanically speaking, these things are not even related to potatoes. They are, in fact, the root of a vine in the morning glory family.

AB: So, why do we call them sweet potatoes?
DEB DUCHON: Because they are?
AB: What you talkin' about, Deb Duchon?
DD: Well, I'm talking etymologically, not botanically.
AB: Oh.
The roots that Christopher Columbus brought back to Spain in 1493 were called "batatas" by the Indians who lived in the greater Antilles Islands at the time. In Spain they started calling them "patatas." Now, the Spanish introduced them to the English, by serving a sweet potato pie to Henry VIII, and he was so grateful that he brought it back to England, and they mangled the name to "potatoes."
AB: Okay, so where did 'sweet' get involved in it?
DD: The sweet wasn't added for a couple hundred more years, and that was in Boston, when these Irish immigrants started bringing white potatoes, actually, back to North America.
AB: Okay, what about this? [holds up "Yams" sign]
DD: Oh, that's really interesting. That's part mistaken identity and part American marketing. Back in the 1930s, some Louisiana farmers developed an orange kind of variety of sweet potato, and they wanted to differentiate it from the yellow sweet potatoes that then dominated the market. Well, "yam" was already Southern slang for 'sweet potato,' and that had been called that because slaves who came from West Africa compared it to the yams that they grew in Africa.
AB: Oh, you mean one of these? [a large yam is thrown to him from off camera, he catches it and falls to the floor] Oof!
DD: Exactly!
AB: [while lying on the floor] Well that's good, because I don't think this is going to fit in one of those little baggies.
DD: [helping him up] That's nothing. I've seen them in Polynesia growing up to 100 pounds!
AB: Yeah?
DD: Yeah. And the really interesting thing is, in Papua New Guinea, they grow them there. They also grow sweet potatoes. The women grow the sweet potatoes, but only a man can grow a yam. They call them "man-yams."
AB: [laughing] Man-yams? Why is it that only men can grow man-yams?
DD: Because the yams that they grow resemble something that only men have. [handing him a slender man-yam]
AB: Yeah?
DD: Think about it. [walks off]
AB: [looks at the potato, her, gets a knowing look, moves on]

    Um, traditionally a cold-weather staple, sweets are available year-round now, but their flavor really does peak during fall and winter months. Always choose specimens that are a bit heavy for their size, are free of any soft spots or sprouts. Otherwise, I wouldn't get too carried away with aesthetics. I mean, sweet potatoes have never been known for their looks, which is probably why there's never been a Mr. Sweet Potato Head. See, sweet ... well ...

White Sweet Potato

Japanese Sweet




    Any spot suitable for spud storage is a great place for stashing your sweets, as well. Now, since they're mighty moist when harvested, sweet potatoes are cured, or partially dried, in kilns for a few days, to toughen their skins and increase their storage potential. You don't want to undo that cure, okay? So keep these in dry, cool, well-ventilated areas, okay? And try to use them within, say, ten to fifteen days. Oh, and remember, sweet potatoes bruise a lot more easily than regular potatoes. So be gentle, okay?
    All show-biz hype aside, sweet potatoes really do deserve our respect, if for no other reason but they are great multi-taskers. A hundred years ago, George Washington Carver set out to plum this root's depths, and wound up making everything from flour to vinegar to instant coffee, after-dinner mints, paint, and five kinds of library paste. Of course, unless you're currently enrolled in kindergarten, that doesn't really sound like good eats.
    What we want to know is this: can sweet potato match pork's performance as a culinary chameleon or is it nothing more than a one-note veggie?

Henry the VIII was fond of sweet potatoes,
which were believed to be an aphrodisiac.

The Kitchen

    Anything a white potato can do, a sweet potato can do. For instance, you can bake them in the oven, just they way you would any baking potato, just out on the rack. The problem is that, even at 350 degrees, this takes a very long time, and the process tends to mute the sweetness of the root. Other options? Well, you could certainly boil them. That's fast. Problem is that since sweet potatoes lack the waxy texture of boiling potatoes, and since they are packed with water-loving sugars, they waterlog very easily. That's not good eats.
    The other option, of course: steaming. Not only is steaming convenient, it is fast, it is easy, it is predictable. And best of all, steam does not wash away either nutrients or flavors, which is a very good thing, indeed.

    Now here we have two large sweet potatoes, cut into cubes. The more uniform the cubes, the more even the cooking. This ends out being about 20 ounces, or four cups. Going into a pot containing one quart of water. We'll lid that up and set our friendly, neighborhood timer to 20 minutes. 20 oz. Or 4 Cups Cubed Sweet Potatoes

1 qt. Boiling Water

20 mins.

    There. Nice and soft, but not wet or gooshy. Now, we're just going to dump this water, put the hunks back in, then add some butter, and some salt. Then we mash. 2 Tbs. Unsalted Butter
1/2 tsp. Salt

    If you're looking for a finer texture, you could use a ricer or a food mill. You could even use an electric stand mixer, if you want, but you'd be making library paste. See the problem is that the little starch granules in sweet potatoes just can't handle that kind of abuse. [takes a bite] Mmm. Yeah, that's good. Of course, if they really do have porcine potential, what they should be able to handle is a little bit of heat. Chemical heat, that is.
    [searching in the cupboard] Hmm. Ah, chipotle chilis. Basically, smoked jalapenos packaged with a viciously-hot concoction, albeit delicious concoction, called adobo, okay? Now, since these are canned, they have been fully cooked, and are ready to deploy.

[dices the pepper and mashes it with the sweet pototatoes] 1 Chipotle Pepper
[adds sauce and mixes] 1 tsp. Adobo Sauce

AB: [places the mashed sweet potatoes before SA]
SA: Mashed sweet potatoes? That's great, Mr. Brown. Really. Terrific. Really.
AB: But?
SA: We did a whole season of dinner theater mashers off-Broadway.
AB: Oh, you're afraid of typecasting. Fine, does this taste like typecasting to you? [forces a spoonful of the mashers into SA's mouth]
SA: Mmm. Mmm! Wow! Hey! That would be great with a steak!
AB: Indeed it would. It would be nice with some onion rings on top, too.
SA: Still, my client needs to go in a new direction. Uh, somewhere a regular spud can't. Uh ... maybe ... perhaps ... could be ...
AB: Waffles!
SA: Waffles?
AB: Waffles!
SA: Waffles! That sounds risky! Avant-garde! Independent! I like it! But won't that require special makeup?
AB: You just leave that part to me.
SA: [cell rings] Marty! Sid! Have I got a tuber for you! He's an underground sensation! [laughs]

The Cook's Warehouse: Atlanta, GA - 1:19 pm

GUEST: Guard
            W, Equipment Specialist

GUARD: [watching AB on the security cameras plugging up all of the waffle irons] Ma'am, it's that guy again.
W: Where?
G: Small appliances. Looks like he's turning on all the waffle irons.
W: He's checking to see how fast they heat up.
G: He's really eyeing that combo waffle-sandwich maker.
W: How predictable. Never mind that it doesn't do either particularly well.
G: Now he's going for a plastic model.
W: Idiot. Plastic chassis waffle irons never get as hot as metal ones.
G: Why?
W: Because if they did, they'd crack or warp. He needs to focus on the real issues.
G: Like, um, an easy-to-clean nonstick surface, a floating-hinge lid that ensures an even rise, an adjustable thermostat, and a light that tells you when iron is ready and the waffle is done.
W: And a moat to catch batter run-off.
G: Now, he's skipping the square models.
W: He's probably heard they don't cook as quickly or as evenly as the round ones.
G: Gun!
W: Ahem. No, uh, infrared thermometer. He's checking to see how hot the units get.
G: Why's that?
W: Because the hotter the unit, the faster the waffle cooks, and that means a crisp exterior and a moist interior.
G: Well, maybe he's not as dumb as you think.
AB: [drops waffle iron]
G: Never mind.
W: Ah, that made my day. Thank you, Sam.

Supposedly, the sweet potato was first cultivated in Peru around 750 B.C.

The Kitchen

    As is true of most epics, if the star of our waffles is truly going to shine, it's going to need the aid of many supporting players, three teams of players, in fact. We'll start with the dry team.

    We're going to sift together two cups of all-purpose flour, along with one tablespoon of baking powder, and half a teaspoon of salt, kosher salt.

Dry Team

2 Cups AP Flour
1 Tbs. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Salt

    Now, moving on to the wet team. Beginning with one cup of milk. A quarter cup of light brown sugar, firmly packed. A quarter cup of butter, unsalted, of course, melted. About a tablespoon of grated orange zest. And last but not least, one and a half cups of our star: mashed and steamed sweet potatoes, without the chipotle peppers, this time. And stir to combine.

Wet Team

1 Cup Milk
1/4 Cup Firmly Packed Light
    Brown Sugar
1/4 Cup Butter, Melted
1 Tbs. Grated Orange Zest
1 1/2 Cups Peeled, Cubed
    Steamed & Mashed Sweet

    Now add the dry team directly to the wet team and stir, but only enough to bring the mass together. You don't want to over-beat it.

    Now I can already tell that our star, the sweet potatoes, are really thickening things up. So, like so many stars, they will require a lift-job. This lift-job will come from six egg whites, beaten to medium peaks.

Foam Team

6 Egg Whites

    Now, I like to use a, uh, electric mixer for this. You could use your, uh, your arm and a hand whisk, if you have, you know, forearms that look like Popeye.
    Perfect. Of course, getting this integrated into this thick goo is going to be a little difficult. So I'm going to do it in three installments. First installment, I'm not going to worry about folding. I'm just going to try to stir it in. Try to lighten that up. Now this is where you'll definitely pay the price if you over-beat that mixture, because you'll create gluten in the flour and, ooh, it'll be messy.
    Now there goes the second installment. Starting to fold now.
    And finally, the remainder of the egg whites. Mix is a lot lighter now. And fold.

    Now since this mixture is so thick, we don't have to pour it with a ladle. We can use a scoop or disher, a #20, in fact. Two loads full. It's called a 20 because it has a 20 on the little sweep in the middle. It means it's a twentieth of a quart. 2 Scoops #20 Disher
    Now just close the lid and wait for the alarm to tell you that the goodness is ready. 5 - 6 mins.

AB: [dishes the waffle and serves to SA]
SA: [on his cell phone] Sweetheart, I'll have to get back to you. Call me if Leno calls, all right? [hangs up, eyes the waffle] Hellooo, beautiful!
AB: Toppings are, of course, only limited by your imagination. Me, I tend to like a nice, dark amber maple syrup and a few toasted pecans. But, if you're looking for more of a dessert scenario, you could augment that with a little bit of butter-pecan ice cream!
SA: Oh! [chuckles, is awkward with flatware] I usually eat with my hands. [takes bite] Ooh! Mmm! Brilliant, Mr. Brown! A breakfast tour de force! Now that we've kicked the spud's butt, what do you say we take out the rest of my client's competition?
AB: What are you, an agent or a hit man?
SA: I'm sorry. Heh. I used to be in advertising.
AB: Oh. Yeah.
SA: It's just when I think of all the roles my client's lost to that other orange offering.
AB: The pumpkin?
SA: Shh! He's very sensitive! [pulls pencil out of sweet potato, covers its 'ears']
AB: Uh, well, look. It's no problem. We can tackle the pumpkin on his own turf.
SA: You mean ...?
SA & AB: Pie!
SA: I'll alert the media!
AB: Yes.
SA: Hello, yes. Yes. I have a news flash, right now! Get this: Dateline, Beirut. ['root' pun] I know. It seems wrong to make pie out of a swollen root. So don't think of it as sweet potato pie. Think of it as making the best pumpkin pie you'll ever make. And we all love pumpkin pie, right? The problem is, who wants to deal with chopping and seeding and roasting and scraping one of these [plastic jack-o-lantern]? Nobody! Which is why, nine times out of ten, pumpkin pie gets made with ... [can of pumpkin puree] And that's really not good eats, now is it?
    The best thing about sweet potatoes, besides being delicious, is that we don't have to break out the chainsaw.

Always use a stainless steel knife when cutting sweet potatoes.
A carbon blade will cause them to discolor.

    [voice over] Break out your stand mixer, and into the bowl insert one and a quarter pounds of sweet potato cubes that you have steamed for 20 minutes. Insert the paddle and beat on low, just until they start to fall apart. Then turn up the speed and mash 'em good. 1 1/4 lb. Peeled, Cubed, & Steamed Sweet Potatoes.
    To that, you're going to add one and a quarter cups of plain yogurt, three quarters cup of packed dark brown sugar, five egg yolks, and then the seasonings: A half teaspoon of cinnamon, ground, a quarter teaspoon of nutmeg, freshly ground. Now beat the tar out of it. 1 1/4 Cups Plain Yogurt

3/4 Cup Packed Dark Brown
5 Egg Yolks
1/2 tsp. Cinnamon
1/4 tsp. Nutmeg

    It won't take more than a couple of minutes to bring everything together. And, uh, it's not going to be pretty when it is together.

    Now pour this into a 9-inch pie shell, and yes, store-bought is fine. Smooth it out with a spatula, if you can, and then sprinkle on one cup of chopped and toasted pecans. You could use walnuts, too, if you like. And then sprinkle on about a tablespoon of dark maple syrup. Mmm. 1 Cup Chopped, Toasted

1 Tbs. Maple Syrup

    Slide your masterwork into a 350 degree oven and close the door, for 50 minutes. 350 For 50-55 mins.

One cup of sweet potatoes has as much beta-carotene as 23 cups of broccoli.

The Kitchen

    Look a little wobbly? Well, this is one of those times when it is devilishly difficult to discern doneness from a visual inspection alone. Luckily, this kind of pie, a custard, sets between 160 and 180 degrees, so it's important to pull it while it's still a little on the wobbly side. You wait too long, and it'll crack on top like a nasty cheesecake. This is 173, which is just right. We'll give it an hour to cool before we attempt slicing.

North Carolina ranks number one in sweet potato production in the U.S.

SA: [on cell] Marshmallows? We don't need no stinkin' marshmallows!
AB: Pie!
SA: It's beautiful!
AB: Yes, it is! [fires up carving knife]
SA: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!
AB: What?
SA: Can't we just look? You cut that, and we can kiss that Vanity Fair cover shot adios!
AB: Relax. Relax a second. [flips the pie onto a larger round cardboard circle and cuts, removes one slice, flips it back over onto a plate] There you go. And we just put this guy back, and with a piece missing it'll be easier to cut next time. Enjoy!
SA: Oh, no, no. You TV chefs can fatten up, but we power-players have to be lean and mean and ... [answers cell phone] Oh! Oh, yes, I'll hold.

    We hope we've opened your mind, and maybe even your heart, to the star potential of the sweet potato. Whether you're looking for a sweet treat, a savory side, or a darned healthy breakfast companion, the sweet potato is a root for all seasons. Not to mention good eats.
Martha, Baby! Have I got a root for you!


SA: [to a rutabaga] So, uh, Rudy... Can I call you Rudy? Are you happy with your current representation? Hmm?

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Transcription by Electrowolfe

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010