I have been obsessed with the Argentinian chef Francis Mallman since I saw his of Chef’s Table episode in 2015. Sure, about the only thing we have in common is a desire to set food on fire, you know, artfully. He does so these days to great acclaim on his private Patagonian island (and 8 other restaurants around the world), accessible through two flights, a five-hour drive, and then 90-minute raft across a lake. I live on a busy block of a crowded city accessible by nearly every format of public transportation, and do so to moderate acclaim (relative mostly to how well the patrons slept that day) under a wispy-by-design gas broiler.
A few weeks ago, my obsession led us to a restaurant named Mettā in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, where everything is either cooked or finished over an open fire (if you go, do so on a cold night and sit at the counter, you’ll be glad you did) where the chef is protégé of Mallman. On the dessert menu is a highly regarded ash-roasted sweet potato with an infused whipped cream* and while it was delicious, forgive me, I didn’t have the Moment with it that every other restaurant reviewer has, but still tucked it away in my head as something I wanted to get back to soon. I just didn’t expect it to be exactly two days later, when I spotted a slow-roasted and charred sweet potato recipe from Michael Solomonov in Saveur. Obviously — because a jump from Patagonia to Fort Greene and then Solomonov is the very definition of “obvious” — it was fate.
Let me make no claims to the weekday appeal of this dish. It may not even have weekend appeal. I totally understand if you might find clearing nearly 3 hours just to cook a potato about as easy as buying a private Patagonian island. I only want you to promise that when you can, you will.
Here’s what happens when you rub a sweet potato with a generous amount of salt and pepper and bake it in a 275-degree oven for 2 1/2 hours and then finish it under the broiler: the flesh of the sweet potato gets sweeter, louder, and more nuanced than seems possible and the salty, lightly blackened skin gets so crispy, you’re going to immediately retroactively resent all of the sweet potatoes you had before then for not tasting like this.
But also: So, you know that only-in-America Thanksgiving sweet potato casserole with the marshmallows on top? Well, I’m about to go there. I’m about to tell you that the two things people (not me no never, how could you even suggest!) like it about it — even-sweeter sweet potatoes and a toasty, charred finish — are exactly why this dish is so good, but it gets there naturally over 150 minutes. You can use or discard this information as you wish.
* that had us reminiscing about the time we went to this restaurant in Paris where we were told by a friend to “order the Corleone and don’t ask what it is” and it turned out to a candied eggplant confit with orange zest and cinnamon and ricotta ice cream that was unforgettable enough that I bring it up here, 10 years later.
The first time we made these, I finished them with a sizzling toasted spice oil — basically a tadka or chaunk in Indian cooking — with a dollop of lightly salted, lemony yogurt and a little pile of black lentils on the side. It was amazing, but I almost felt like the sweet potato itself is so good, it deserves to be the whole story here. The second time, I couldn’t resist making a roasted garlic yogurt sauce and we finished the potatoes with pats of salted butter and I about wept from how good it was, so do know that this needs no bells and whistles to be worthy of your plate’s best real estate. We also had a red cabbage salad on the side that we barely remember, but this one would do nicely.
4 medium sweet potatoes (about 3 pounds), scrubbed clean
4 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Heat your oven to 275°F. Arrange sweet potatoes on a large, foil-lined baking sheet. Rub each with 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt (which will make a quite salty skin, use less if desired) and 1/4 teaspoon pepper until well coated. Bake until very soft inside and caramelized on the bottom, about 2 1/2 hours. Heat your broiler and run the potatoes underneath it — mine is fairly weak, and this took 5 to 10 minutes, but check in regularly, a more robust one might do it in 1 to 2 minutes — until lightly charred on top. Let potatoes cool 10 minutes, then gently crush potatoes with your hands to expose the flesh; season with salt and finish with butter, or a topping of your choice. Some more ideas:
Slow-Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Sizzling Spices: For each potato, heat 2 to 3 teaspoons of a neutral oil or ghee (not vegan, of course) over medium-high heat, add 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds and 1/2 teaspoon yellow or brown mustard seeds; fry until they crackle and pop, about 20 to 30 seconds. Add 1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic and red pepper flakes to taste; fry another 15 seconds. Pour immediately over exposed potato flesh, and finish with salt. We ate this with some yogurt that had been salted and mixed with lemon juice, and some black lentils on the side.
Slow-Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Roasted Garlic Yogurt (not vegan, of course): Cut a head of garlic in half crosswise; drizzle exposed garlic with a little oil or butter and a pinch of salt. “Close” the garlic again and wrap the head tightly in foil. Place on baking sheet with potatoes. When potatoes are done, use a knife point to remove very soft and lightly browned garlic cloves from their paper shells and mash them with a fork in a small bowl. Stir in 1/2 cup plain yogurt, or more to taste. Season well with salt and pepper. We put pats of salted butter on the exposed potato flesh and dolloped this on top.