Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Why Sweet Potatoes are Special

Dear Tricia, I like to eat sweet potatoes and tried to make hash browns with them. Problem is, they didn't brown like regular potatoes and they got soggy. I want the crispy brown outside that you get from regular potato hash browns. Did I do something wrong?

Probably not, there's just a little bit of tweaking that you need to adjust. To be frank, you're not going to get the same kind of result that you would get from regular potatoes, but give me a break... I'm not God.
First of all, you're probably using yams, which are totally different than sweet potatoes, which are a totally different from regular potatoes. Yes, that's right. They're in completely different botanical families, and we refer to them as the same thing. Yet another reason why the English language is one of the most backward languages on the planet. Ten bucks says that one of those African clicking languages makes more sense.
Regardless of whether you used yams or sweet potatoes (we'll use them interchangeably in this entry and get to the specifics some other time when I have writers block), the big difference between potatoes and sweet potatoes is their moisture content. Sweet potatoes have more water in them, and potatoes have more starch in them. Have you ever made mashed sweet potatoes? They're not nearly as fluffy and heavenly as regular mashed potatoes, and that's because there's less starch in them. So when you make regular ol' hash browns, all of that starchy goodness gets nice and golden brown, and that's what you're used to. Sweet potatoes, because they have less starch, won't give you that golden brown color like you're expecting. Fortunately, they do have a lot of sugar in them which gives you some color when you fry them, but you have to be careful not to burn them.
Here's the 2 tricks to good sweet potato hash browns:

1. Don't get the pan too hot.
The sugar in the sweet potatoes is moody and likes to burn easily. So, while you want to put the grated sweet potatoes in a hot pan, make sure you keep the heat at a medium high and no higher. "What's medium high," you ask? If you're like me, and you have a lame electric stove (gas is SO much better), and the numbers go from 1-9, keep the pan at about a 7. Again, make sure you put the potatoes in an already-hot pan with already-hot-and-melted butter or oil in it. Putting anything in a pan that's not hot and expecting it to cook is just stupid. It takes forever and if you're going to waste your time, don't do it while staring at a frying pan... find something more fun to do.

2. Don't put too many sweet potatoes in the pan at once.
Because sweet potatoes have more moisture in them than regular potatoes, they'll want to steam. If you put an entire shredded sweet potato in a frying pan (and I know how much that is. It's a freaking ton.) the moisture out of the potatoes on the bottom will turn into steam, get trapped inside the giant sweet potato pile, and make everything soggy. And you don't want to ruin breakfast, do you? So try cooking the sweet potato in 2 or 3 batches... whatever just covers the bottom of the pan.

So let's practice this. Have your shredded sweet potatoes ready. Get your pan hot... turn it up to about a 7, or whatever is in between medium and high on your stove. Put your butter or oil in the pan and let it melt/get hot. Put an even layer of potatoes in, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. After a minute or so, go ahead and start mixing the potatoes around, just to make sure that they don't start to turn black. Continue cooking them until they're crispy and season them with salt and pepper. And remember... you won't get the same results as you will from regular potatoes. The sweet potatoes will more or less have the texture of shredded carrots.... but tasty all the same. Magic!
Let me get on my soap box for a second and tell you why sweet potatoes are awesome. Usually I'd just write something about how all the vitamins help prevent cancer and cancel out last night's cocktails... but instead, I decided to write a poem for you to enjoy.

I am the fan of the potatoes of sweet
They make my mouth happy and they don't smell like feet.
They're super high in fiber so their sugar digests slow
So instead of crashing, your metabolism says "Let's go!"
If you're diabetic (Wilford Brimley) its the right starch for you
and even if you're not, you might like them too.
They have antioxidants so you don't get the big "C"
And when you tell your friends, you can give credit to me.

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