Mashed Sweet Potatoes

January 13, 2007 at 8:06 pm (B_(3 stars, like), Cook's Illustrated, My brain, Quick weeknight recipe, Root vegetables, Starches, Vegetable dishes)

For the past two years in a row I’ve made massive amounts of mashed sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving. I bake the potatoes on a cookie sheet until they’re meltingly soft, then let them cool a bit and peel off most of the peel (and eat about half of the peel while doing so–the carmelized soft bit that was touching the cookie sheet is so sweet and delicious). I put them all in a big bowl and mash them. The question is then how to season them, and how much fat and sweet to add?

This year I added salt, a touch of brown sugar, and a whole bunch of fresh chopped sage (one of those plastic boxes full). It was good but was missing something Derek and his father thought. So we sautéed about 2 Tbs. of chopped garlic in a little olive oil. Much, much better. The sweet potatoes had a fuller, more savory flavory.

Last year I added orange juice and zest. They were good too.

I was just reading the recipe for Mashed Sweet Potatoes in Cook’s Illustrated The Best Light Recipe cookbook. They say they tried all kinds of ways of cooking the potatoes. Baking was excellent, but it took over an hour and then you had to cool them before you could peel them. Boiling sweet potatoes in their skins and boiling pieces of peeled potato were equally bad–little flavor and a wet puree. The microwave cooked the potatoes unevenly, and they went instantly from undercooked to overdone. They ended up suggesting braising peeled, sliced sweet potatoes in a little water. They say it yields a luxurious texture that is neither loose nor gluey. I decided to try it.

  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes (2 large or 3 medium), peeled, quartered lenghtwise, and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
  • 6 Tbs. half-and-half, warmed
  • ground black pepper
  1. Combine the sweet potatoes, salt, sugar, and water in a 3-quart saucepan. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes fall apart when poked with a fork, 35 to 45 minutes.
  2. Off the heat, mash the sweet potatoes in the saucepan with a potato masher. Stir in the melted butter and half-and-half with a wooden spoon until incorporated. Season with pepper to taste.

My Notes

I didn’t peel my potatoes all the way–mostly just the ends and any rough spots I saw. My potatoes were done in about 30 minutes. They were so soft I didn’t even need a potato masher–just used a fork. I didn’t bother to melt the butter first, just threw it in to the hot potato mash. Six Tbs. of half-and-half sounded like a lot so I started with just 2 Tbs. (not warmred) and tasted it. Wow, it was plenty rich! I had some cold the next morning and the dairy fat was a bit overwhelming. Next time I will use less butter and half-and-half, or maybe just one of the two. I also think they were a tad too salty–Derek would disagree I’m sure, but I’d try only 1/4 tsp. salt next time.

This recipe made just over 3 cups of mashed sweet potatoes. Cook’s Illustrated says it serves 4, which seems about right for a side, although with smaller portions it could probably be stretched to 5 or 6, and if it’s more of a main component then probably it would only serve 3.

In any case, the mash was quite lovely–smooth and luxurious tasting, just as Cook’s Illustrated says. However, it was just a tad boring. I added some chopped fresh sage and that helped a lot. Cook’s Illustrated also has two variations (described below).

Cooking the potatoes in a pan was certainly easier than baking than peeling them, and the texture was perhaps even better. They seemed less stringy than baked sweet potatoes, although that could have just been the variety of potato I bought. With this recipe you do have to peel and cut them up first, but that’s pretty fast. I wonder how it would work if I was cooking a really big batch for Thanksgiving? The recipe says you can double the batch and cook them in a dutch oven, but then the cooking time doubles as well. In that case, it’s about as long as baking them in the oven. But on Thanksgiving the oven is a hot commodity (hee hee), so I guess it’s still better to use the stovetop even if it’s not much faster.

Rating: B

Update March 2007: I made this again, using 4 large sweet potatoes, about 2 lbs 5 ounces, which yielded almost 3 quarts chopped, and almost 2 quarts of mashed sweet potato (maybe 7 cups?). I added a bit more than 1 cup water, 3/4 tsp. salt, and 1.5 tsp. sugar. I think it was a tad too much water since they were a bit too watery after being mashed. I think when you multiply the recipe maybe you don’t need to multiply the water, since the potatoes have their own water, so it’s really just to start them cooking. Even though I almost doubled the recipe, the potatoes still were cooked after about 30 minutes. I added 1 Tbs. butter and 4 Tbs. organic half and half, plus I followed my friend Alekz’s suggestion and added a canned chipotle pepper. I didn’t seed it or cut it up—just threw it in and mashed it along with the sweet potatoes.

Rating: ??

Derek: ??


Cook’s Illustrated Suggestions:

1. Use brown sugar instead of white, and add 2 tsp. minced or grated fresh ginger along with the sweet potatoes in step 1.

2. Replace the sugar with 2 Tbs. maple syrup, and add 1/2 tsp. grated orange zest to the butter and half-and-half in step 1.

My friend Alekz recommends making chipotle mashed potatoes:

Mash potatoes with chopped or pureed chipotle in adobo to taste (i like about one pepper per cup to cup and a half – seeds removed)

  1. Add low-fat sour cream to taste and for additional creaminess
  2. Add cumin to taste (maybe a teaspoon per cup of mashed sweet potatoes)
  3. Garnish with fresh, chopped cilantro, and maybe some roasted squash seeds for crunch


  1. Phil said,

    This is a good looking mash recipe, I’m keen to try this one out. If you are looking for some other mash recipes (shameless plug) you should come check out my blog. Its only new, so be kind.

  2. vj said,

    We love Alton Brown’s Chipotle Sweet Potatoes, which is sounds like you’ve come close to. Here’s the recipe:

    2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
    2 tablespoons unsalted butter
    1 whole canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, chopped
    1 teaspoon adobo sauce from can of peppers
    1/2 teaspoon salt

    Put cubed potatoes into steamer basket and place steamer into a large pot of simmering water that is no closer than 2 inches from the bottom of basket. Allow to steam for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender. Add butter to potatoes and mash with potato masher. Add peppers, sauce, and salt and continue mashing to combine. Serve immediately.

    Being hot heads, we always put at least 3 chipotles in — when we initially made the recipe, we thought we were supposed to put in the whole can, and luckily, my partner had the sense to cut back a little.

    So, which co-op did you live in in Austin? My partner lived in the Ark and Fredonia in the later 80s.

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