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We all face the same question each year as Thanksgiving approaches: Do we stick with the classics or do something a little different? And, if we do something different, just how different do we want to get? To help answer that question, I came up with three easy variations on basic roasted sweet potatoes, a Turkey Day staple.
In each case, I stick with a technique Kenji has written about before, which calls for par-cooking the potatoes in 160°F water. This temperature helps maximize the transformation of complex starches into simple sugars. (Above 170°F, the enzymes that do the heavy lifting shut down, leading to less sweet and flavorful potatoes.) Then the potatoes are tossed in oil and roasted until they're nicely browned and slightly crisp in spots.
Once that's done, you can go with whichever flavor profile you want. Here's a description of each one to help you choose.
Brown Butter and Rosemary Roasted Sweet Potatoes
For the most traditional of the three flavors, these potatoes are bathed in a rich and buttery sauce that's been infused with rosemary and a base note of savory chicken stock. I make it by melting the butter in a saucepan, then cooking it until the milk solids turn a deep hazelnut color. As soon as it reaches that brown shade, I remove it from the heat and throw in sprigs of fresh rosemary. They'll sizzle and fry in the hot butter, releasing their woodsy-piney aroma into it (and into your kitchen—it smells great).
I don't stop there, though. After that, I pour in a small amount of chicken stock that I've spiked with unflavored gelatin. The gelatin adds a rich viscosity to the stock (especially important if your stock isn't homemade), which ensures that the sauce doesn't end up with a thin, watery texture.
I return it to the heat at this point and simmer it until the stock is further reduced and syrupy, with a deep, meaty flavor. Then I fish out and discard the rosemary sprigs. To balance out all that richness, I hit it with a splash of fresh lemon juice, plus plenty of salt so the flavor really pops.
When the potatoes are ready, I just toss them with the sauce, and I'm done.
Smoky Spiced-Pecan Roasted Sweet Potatoes
To get an even bolder flavor on these roasted sweet potatoes, I decided to turn to my spice cabinet, where I pulled together a trio of smoky chipotle powder, funky cumin, and citrusy coriander seed to create a complex seasoning. For more richness and a bit of crunch to play off all that smoky spice, I also grabbed some pecans.
Preparing this version couldn't be easier. While the potatoes are roasting, I pour some oil into a small skillet, add the spices, and heat them together until the spices have bloomed, meaning until they've developed a deep, toasty flavor that soaks into the oil. Then I crumble and add the pecans, and toss it all together to coat. A little brown sugar helps offset some of that bitter, smoky spice. Fold this spiced-nut mixture with the potatoes before serving.
Miso-Scallion Roasted Sweet Potatoes
The most unconventional of the three flavors, this one blends miso with mirin and fresh scallions for a Japanese twist. As long as you have the ingredients, it's also the easiest of the three (and they're all pretty dang easy). Simply whisk miso—I used white, but any kind will work, each giving its own shade of flavor to the dish—with mirin (a type of rice wine), sugar, oil, and water. Toss this dressing with the roasted potatoes, and fold in the scallions.
If you want, you can also sprinkle on some shichimi togarashi, Japan's seven-spice chili powder. It adds some extra layers of flavor, plus a mild kick of heat, which work nicely with the sweet-savory flavors in the dish.