Not so sweet, tater

Posted 10/2/20

What I’m about to say will shock some. It will anger and maybe even horrify others.

So, here goes.

I do not like the vast majority of Thanksgiving dinner. I’m no fan of turkey — except …

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Not so sweet, tater

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What I’m about to say will shock some. It will anger and maybe even horrify others.

So, here goes.

I do not like the vast majority of Thanksgiving dinner. I’m no fan of turkey — except for a post-Thanksgiving dinner, pre-bed sandwich. Just squishy white bread, leftover gobbler, too much mayonnaise (Hellmann’s), and salt and pepper. It’s actually the real Matthews Family Band Day of Thanks tradition. (Well, that and online Christmas shopping in my pajamas.)

There are two things on the table that I do like. I like turkey gravy, I think because the stock has the real flavor when you use the giblets and neck. I also use a bit of nutmeg and sage in it, along with a browned butter roux.

My family has never done the sweet potato casserole with the marshmallows. Mom and my Aunt Polly have always baked canned sweet potato chunks with salt, pepper, butter and a tiny bit of brown sugar.

From the Thanksgiving mists of time, I have loved those tacky sweet potatoes drenched in turkey gravy.

I’ve never been one of those kids who couldn’t abide different foods touching on my plate. So, I guess one year I got gravy on my tinned orange spuds, tasted it, and fell in love.

All of this turkey day confessional brings me to my point.

Sweet potatoes are awesome when mixed with savory, even down right salty foods. Sour cream and chives on a baked potato are great. Or caramelized onions and super sharp cheddar. The interplay of salty and sweet here is as full-bodied and tasty as one of those addictive salted caramel chocolates.

There’s a Carly C’s near my house, and the baking regular and sweet potatoes are huge. The Kid calls them Shearon Harris potatoes because they look like maybe they’ve been radiated and grown and grown like one of those monster movies from the 50s — think “Attack of the Sixty Foot Hasselbeck Potatoes.”

Petey and I often will each have one of these behemoths all by itself for dinner. Once in a while, I’ll go for the sweet version.

And, when we get Chinese take-out we very often go for egg fu yung. And as my friend Will told me the first time I ever had it, “It’s all about the gravy.” That stuff is terrific on anything. It’s rich, silky, and spicy.

So, I decided on two experiments. I would make some egg fu yung gravy for the first time, and put it on a baked sweet.

It was a success. The spicy gravy was a great compliment to the earthy sweet spud. I hope you let your own sweet potatoes break out and mingle on the salty side of the street.

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Five-Spice Gravy

For the sweet potatoes:

2 large sweet potatoes

1 tablespoon bacon grease, duck fat or vegetable oil

Spice Rub:

Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 375°. Place a rack onto a rimmed baking sheet and put into oven.

Wash and dry spuds. Paint a very thin layer of fat all over the potatoes. Sprinkle on the spice rub, and massage them all over the skin.

Place on rack in oven and bake for 30 minutes, flip over and bake for 30 more, or until it’s cooked through.


2 cups chicken stock

2 teaspoons dark or mushroom soy

1/2 tablespoon molasses, maple syrup, or dark honey

1/4 teaspoon Chinese Five-spice powder

Few scrapings of fresh nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Salt & pepper to taste


2 tablespoon corn starch

2 tablespoons sherry or Chinese rice wine

*VERY IMPORTANT: Do not salt the gravy before you taste it. Dark soy is extremely salty and you may not even need more salt.

Put first six ingredients into a saucepan and heat to a light boil. Whisk together slurry. Slowly add slurry to saucepan, whisking all the while (you may not need all of the slurry) until it is thick and silky. When it comes to boil again, reduce heat, and cook at a simmer for 5 minutes or until the raw alcohol flavor has cooked out.


Toasted salted pumpkin seeds

Thinly sliced green onions

Crispy bacon (optional)

Split baked sweet potato and rough up the meat a little bit with a fork. Pour gravy over, then sprinkle with seeds, onions, and bacon, if you’ve got it.

Fall Salad:

8 ounces mixed greens

1 pear, cored and sliced thinly

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds

1/4 cup goat cheese crumbled

2 tablespoons dried cranberries

1/2 small red onion, shaved

Nutty Dressing:

3 tablespoons creamy peanut or sun (sunflower) butter

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1-3 tablespoons apple juice, or water

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon maple syrup or molasses

Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together butter, balsamic, juice, mustard, and syrup. Add apple juice, a bit at a time until it is a creamy dressing consistency.

Very lightly dress the salad (you’ll have more dressing than you need).

The remainder of the dressing is delicious as on a warm faro/lentil salad. Or, baked sweet potatoes.


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