Wednesday, December 16, 2009

and shut my mouth

Believe it or not, I think the sweet potato is underrated -- that is, I think sweet potato fries have stolen some of the thunder of a plain baked sweet potato, the best savory preparation of the vegetable.  You do nothing to the sweet potato -- you just stick it in the oven, right on the rack if you like, at about 400 degrees for an hour or more.  It's hard to overcook, though it will LOOK like you've overcooked it, perhaps -- the skin may look a little scorched, the potato may look dried out.

It's not dried out.  The skin will peel away like paper, and the inside is soft and sumptuous, having lost its fibrousness.  It really needs nothing more than salt and maybe a pat of butter, but of course you can do other things to it:

Sweet potato with pecan vinaigrette

Baked sweet potato with pecan vinaigrette.  Toasted pecans (just drop them in a hot dry pan for thirty seconds), pecan oil, malt vinegar, and a little sorghum to sweeten it.

Sweet potato bacon hash, with fried eggs and mustard

Sweet potato bacon hash, with fried eggs and mustard.  

Must mention the bacon here.  Garfields Smoked Bacon, smoked over a blend of corncobs and hardwood, has shown up in various food magazines, as a selection of the Splendid Palate's Bacon of the Month Club, etc.  It happens to be made in New Hampshire, so for most of the year I have easy access to it, and it's fantastic.  I've had a pretty wide variety of great bacon -- fatty beef bacon in Louisiana, double-smoked Hungarian bacon, jowl bacon in Indiana, pancetta, ventreche, guanciale, and of course my own bourbon-cured country bacon -- and Garfield's is very very high on my list.  I would have to try it side by side with the best of the jowl bacons to decide between them.

Onward.  For one fairly large sweet potato, I used six slices of bacon -- thick-cut, remember.  This is two servings of hash, and most of the fat of the bacon doesn't wind up in the final product, thankfully.  Grind the bacon up in a food processor and cook it slowly over medium-low heat until most of the fat has rendered out.  Drain the fat (use for cornbread or biscuits), mix with the baked mashed sweet potato and diced hot cherry peppers, and cook slowly in cast-iron until a crust forms.  That "blackening" isn't burnt sweet potato, just the sugars caramelized.

(As a sidenote, remember the boiled peanuts?  Here's the latest use for them: a bacon cheeseburger, with mashed boiled peanuts on the bottom bun.  Fantastic.)

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