I was never much of a sweet potato eater. I think it has to do with years of sweet potato abuse around the holidays. You know, those inverted canoes drowning in a lake of syrupy sweetness and sometimes topped with toasted, melted marshmallows? While that may be a high-point of the holiday table for many, it was never one of mine. And I had to eat my share of those tooth-achingly sweet things when I was a child. I know that’s what did me in. For many years afterward, I would never even think of putting a sweet potato on my plate.
But with due time and total control of my cooking and meal planning, I began to take another look at the sweet potato. With all of it’s nutritional benefits, I realized I needed to give it another try, but on my own terms this time. For me, it was a case of less is more. I like them simply prepared: baked and then mashed with a small amount of butter, a sprinkle of cinnamon and a little grated orange zest (or chopped kumquat skins when they’re in season). What started out as an occasional side dish has turned into a weekly, if not daily, meal accompaniment.
Lately, it’s the oven-baked sweet potato fries that are getting a lot of attention in my house. I have to admit that we’re big fans of the Alexia Sweet Potato Fries (they have, hands-down, the best commercially available sweet potato fries on the market, in my opinion*) and I was determined to get my home version to crisp up like theirs do. The only requirement was that my process had to be quick (as in cut, toss with oil and throw into the oven).
I tried everything from soaking the cut sweet potatoes in cold water to giving them a slight dusting of cornstarch (think Chinese restaurant lightly crisp coating) before tossing with olive oil. I thought the soaked sweet potatoes lost some of their flavor and the cornstarch-dusted batch left a slight gritty residue in my mouth. Not so good. The best success I had came at the end of my experimental process. I found that a screaming hot oven, a preheated, well-oiled baking sheet and straight or crinkle-cut sweet potatoes turned 3 or 4 times in the oven yielded the best results. And size does matter here. Actually, it’s critical. The sweet potatoes need to be cut into 1/4-inch sticks, no longer than 3 to 4 inches, to allow for sufficient cooking time. Too thick and too big will more than likely result in well-done, slightly burned, limp fries.
All in all, I was pleased with the results from my last attempt. The crinkle-cut sweet potato fries made a better photograph, but I think the straight cut fries allowed for greater contact with the hot sheet pan, which allows for greater browning and crisping. That said, you must turn the fries so that all sides are given the same opportunity. Making 2 batches guarantees another helping of hot fries, and you won’t get any complaints about that. But for me, it’s the orange-nutmeg salt that takes these sweet potato fries to the next level. And if you really want to play around, a dash of cayenne pepper adds an unexpected little kick.
*This post is in no way supported by Alexia Foods. Quite frankly, they have no idea who I am.
SWEET POTATO FRIES WITH ORANGE-NUTMEG SALT
Prep time: 10 minutes plus oven preheating Cook time: 15 to 20 minutes
- 2 medium sweet potatoes, washed and dried (or peeled depending on preference)
- 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon orange zest
- 2 pinches ground nutmeg, or to taste
- dash of cayenne pepper, or to taste (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F and place heavy baking sheet into oven.
2. Prepare sweet potatoes by cutting lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices with crinkle cutter, stack and cut again into 1/4-inch sticks. Cut sticks into 3-inch segments.
3. Place sweet potato sticks into medium-sized bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil.
4. Pour remaining olive oil onto baking sheet and using an oven mitt lift baking sheet and turn to coat with olive oil. Return to oven and allow sheet pan to reheat, about 2-3 minutes.
5. Open oven door and pour half of the sweet potatoes onto hot sheet pan in a single layer. Do not crowd sweet potatoes.
6. Place sheet pan on bottom oven rack, turning sweet potatoes and rotating sheet pan every 5-6 minutes until cooked through (about 20 minutes).
7. Meanwhile combine ingredients for salt together with a mortar and pestle (or place ingredients into a zip-lock bag and crush together with a rolling pin). Pour into a small bowl and set aside to dry slightly. You will have extra salt leftover.
8. Remove sweet potatoes from tray, sprinkle with orange-nutmeg salt and serve immediately. Repeat with remaining sweet potatoes adding additional olive oil to sheet pan if necessary.