A tricky dish to do in volume, and hence, I tend to forget to make it at the restaurant, but it is easy for the home cook. An obvious friend to bacon and eggs, these lacy cakes are also good with almost any roasted meat or bird. The sweet-salty flavor and crispy texture is irresistible and appeals to those not usually fond of sweet potatoes. These hash browns are also very pretty made with a combination of starchy, yellow sweet potatoes and a little bit of orange yam. (Don't use all yams; by themselves they form a wet, dense mass, not a lacy cake. They don't have enough starch to stick together and form a crust. They do, on the other hand, try to stick to the pan.)
Just over 1 pound yellow sweet potatoes, or combination of mostly sweet potatoes and a little bit of yam
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1. Peel, then grate the potatoes on the widest face of your grater or in a processor.
2. Melt half of the butter over medium heat in an 8- to 9-inch non-stick skillet.
3. Add about one quarter of the grated potatoes to cover the bottom of the pan in a 1/2-inch deep tangle. You should barely be able to see through it to the bottom of the pan. They should sizzle on contact. Season evenly with salt. Swirl the pan to urge the potatoes into a mass without compacting them.
4. Cook 5 minutes or so, then check gingerly at the edge of the tangle to see if the bottom has set to a golden crust. Once it has, swirl the pan again to make sure the cake is not sticking, then flip the mass of potatoes like a pancake, or lift and turn it over with a spatula in halves if necessary. Don't be tempted to "neaten-up" or compress the potatoes; their charm lies in the irregular, lacy, crispy texture—overhandling makes them steam and will produce a dense, uninteresting patty. Add the rest of the butter to the edge of the pan, tilt in all directions to ensure it coats the whole surface, then leave it to brown the other side. This should take about 4 minutes.
6. Serve immediately, or hold on parchment paper on a sheet pan in a warm oven while you make more cakes. Don't overlap the finished cakes.
Note: You can certainly make a larger cake in a larger pan, although it will be trickier to flip. If you have a griddle, you can free form the cakes and then turn them with a spatula.
Adapted from The Zuni Café Cookbook by Judy Rodgers (W. W. Norton, 2002). Copyright 2002 by Judy Rodgers.
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