Entries in the Sweet Potato Contest at the Westport Winter Farmers Market.
When I saw the sweet potato hash, topped with fried eggs, I knew I was sunk. I’d entered the Westport Farmers Market Sweet Potato recipe contest, and as people began putting dishes on the table, I saw the competition was tough.
I’d spent several nights delving into sweet potatoes, experimenting and testing. I began by roasting them in their skins in a hot oven. You know they’re done when their natural sugars have created a syrup oozing out of the holes you forked in them (to make sure they don’t explode).
Roasted sweet potatoes, pushed through a seive, and then gently cooked over the stove to remove moisture and concentrate flavors.
After I scooped the vivid orange flesh from the skins, I cut the skins into strips and fried them in olive oil. Sprinkled with salt, they were crispy and light, with a touch of earthiness.
Then I started thinking about making a sauce from a raw, juiced sweet potato. The Westport Farmer’s Market contest rules required locally grown ones. I got some from the Fort Hill Farm stand.
Later, at Whole Foods, I noticed more sweet potatoes. They were from California. They were large and smooth-skinned. The local Fort Hill Farm sweet potatoes had rough skin, and they were older and skinnier. Let me add, the Whole Foods sweet potatoes, which were not organic, were damn expensive. Five of them cost $9!
I compared the taste of the raw juice from the local Fort Hill Farm and the California sweet potatoes. Fort Hill’s tasted of clove and vanilla. It was earthy and sweet, with a starchy back note.
The California sweet potatoes were sweet. Full-on sweet. And starchy. That was it. No spice, no depth. The local sweet potatoes won the flavor battle hands down.
The starch in the sweet potato juice settled to the bottom of the mixing glass, a thick band of white topped by orange liquid.
The sweet-potato-lemongrass juice had good flavor, but tasted too raw, so I bubbled it on the stove and reduced it. For final thickening, I added some of the the sweet potato starch from the bottom of the glass.
I created a complicated and imperfect little dish. The texture of the caramelized slice on the bottom was too soft. The sweet potato puree, flavored with maple syrup and homegrown habenero sauce was probably too spicy. The sauce (there was some beneath the puree), was tasty but got lost. The fried skins were great, but more would have been better. In sum, it was a weird creation.
And then there was that sweet potato hash. You just wanted to dig in and help yourself. So, I didn’t win. The sweet potato hash came in second place to Sal Gilberties salad and sweet potatoes. In the sweet category, the vegan sweet potato tiramisu won first price, and the sour cream coffee cake came in second (Congratulations, Donna Young!)
Entering the contest, roasting, beating, frying, flavoring, piping, juicing the sweet potatoes, and creating a new dish, was illuminating in many ways. Most of all, I relearned that essential lesson: Keep it simple.
A judge points to Sal Giberties winning baby arugula salad over sliced sweet potatoes.