Sunday, June 16, 2013

super sides: sweet potato chips

Sweet potato fries and chips seem to be a big hit now that various "caveman" diets have become so popular (think Paleo and Whole30). While still craving the favorite side to grass-fed beef or free-range turkey burger, dieters are opting for sweet potato over the traditional white potato for fries and chips.

But why? authors did a little research for a comparison between white and sweet potatoes. While the amount of calories, carbohydrates, fiber, protein and fat were fairly close between the 100 g servings of each potato, the sweet potato was the clear winner when it came to vitamins. The amount of Vitamin C and Vitamin A per serving (compared to a white potato) are a likely reason the sweet potato prevails as the healthier choice. However, the white potato can offer a slightly higher amount of iron and potassium.

Nutritional information aside, the way you prepare your food also has a hand in how healthy it is when you eat it. Common sense tells you that fresh veggies are great, but if you load them up with a fatty dressing or lots of melted butter, you're adding calories and perhaps some ingredients you could better live without.

This week, I planned on a dinner of turkey burgers and sweet potato chips. I read countless recipes online, each with loads of comments from readers and at-home chefs who tried and maybe tweaked the recipes, sharing their results. The bottom line? Everyone had an opinion as to how to make the best and crispiest sweet potato treat.

Make your raw sweet potato slices as thin as possible.
I began by following a set of instructions for baking the sweet potato chips. Why baking? Less oil, less mess and less effort.

what you need:
sweet potatoes
mandolin or a sharp knife and steady hand
olive oil
sea salt or other seasonings of your choice

what you do:
1. Wash your sweet potatoes, peel if desired (I chose not to) and slice as thin as possible.
2. Put the sweet potato slices in a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil, mixing the potato slices with your hands to ensure they all get a light coating of oil.
3. Lay the slices out on a baking sheet (I chose a broiler pan with holes that rests on top of a deeper pan) and sprinkle with sea salt or other seasonings (I used Old Bay).
4. Place the pan on the lower rack of a 400º oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, turning the potato slices over halfway through baking time.

Now, here's where I went wrong. Some recipes and comments suggested turning up the heat partway through the baking process, so I upped the temperature to nearly 450º. After throwing in a load of laundry, I came back to the kitchen to find half of the chips crispy and edible, the rest charred. Perhaps if I baked the sweet potato slices longer and at the lower temperature, they all would have turned out great. The edible ones were pretty fantastic though.

Luckily I had three sweet potatoes, so I tried another method - a combination of oil frying and baking.

what you need:
sweet potatoes
mandolin or a sharp knife and a steady hand
cooking oil
sea salt or other seasonings of your choice

what you do:
1. What your sweet potatoes, peel if desired (again, I did not) and slice as thin as possible.
2. Cover the bottom of a large frying pan with cooking oil (1/4-1/2 inch) and turn the burner on medium heat to begin warming the oil.
3. Using a spatula or large spoon, carefully place sweet potato slices in the frying pan. After a couple of minutes, flip the slices over. Continue frying in the oil until you see the slices shrivel and begin resembling a potato chip.
4. Before the chips get too brown, use the spatula to remove them from the oil, allowing excess oil to drain back into the frying pan. Spread the chips out on a baking sheet and sprinkle with sea salt or other seasonings.
5. Once all sweet potato slices have been fried and are on the baking sheet, place the sheet in the oven at 400º. After about 3-5 minutes, check and flip the chips on the cookie sheet. Salt or season the flipped side of the chips and bake for another 3-5 minutes.
6. When you remove the chips from the oven, place them on a paper towel to absorb excess oil before serving.

Although more labor intensive, the second method produced much better chips. They were crispy (except the ones I got a little impatient with while frying), crunchy and a perfect side to homemade turkey burgers. These were definitely worth the effort to make again.

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