Chef Al's Japanese Sweet and Smoky Potatoes

Chef Al's Japanese Sweet and Smoky Potatoes

Not Too Sweet, But Just Sweet Enough

The Institute of Culinary Education has teamed up with GrowNYC for a monthly series highlighting a seasonal ingredient at the farmers’ market.

The Japanese sweet potato is a favorite of Culinary Arts Chef-Instructor Albert Nguyen. It is less watery than the traditional orange sweet potato everyone is used to, and a little starchier, so it may remind you of a russet potato with just a hint of sweetness. This spud has a creamy, pale-yellow flesh and dark purple peel.

Chef Al grew up eating Japanese sweet potatoes, either cut up and roasted or sometimes roasted whole in foil. He incorporated one of his favorite techniques for a demo at the Union Square Greenmarket in his recipe for Japanese Sweet and Smoky Potatoes. The potatoes were cut in half and roasted face down with a lot of oil and salt for extra crisping and caramelizing. Roasting helps dry the potato out, concentrating the sweetness on the inside and creating a gorgeous, crystal caramel base.

Related:The Difference Between Fruits and Vegetables

At the greenmarket, he sautéed onions with smoked Spanish paprika, brown sugar and sherry vinegar, creating a topping that is a little sweet, smoky and salty — something that may remind you of barbecue sauce. What really makes it shine is a healthy amount of olive oil, which takes on those smoky flavors and acts like a warm vinaigrette. Toasted almonds, chopped parsley and a shower of grated white cheddar topped this masterpiece.

 Other ways to enjoy this potato are roasted with a sprinkle of maple syrup or sugar, or rubbed with garlic or herb butter. It is also a great addition to curries and soups and is also delicious when mashed.

In Chef Al’s family and most Asian cultures, it’s a compliment to sweet foods if they’re not too sweet. According to Chef Al: “Japanese sweet potatoes are not too sweet but just sweet enough.”

Try his recipe at home — regular sweet potatoes can be subbed in if Japanese sweet potatoes aren’t available.


Japanese Sweet and Smoky Potatoes


For the Roasted Potatoes:

  • 3 Japanese sweet potatoes
  • 4 ounces canola oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt

For the Smoky Onions:

  • 1 medium/large Spanish yellow onion in 1/4-inch slices
  • 6 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon Spanish smoked paprika
  • 2 ounces brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces sherry vinegar

For Garnish:

  • 6 ounces white cheddar or Manchego cheese
  • 4 ounces of slivered almonds
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 400˚F. Wash and cut the sweet potatoes in half lengthwise. On a baking tray toss and generously rub the sweet potatoes with the canola oil and salt. Place them cut side down (the flat side) onto the tray.
  2. Place sweet potatoes in the oven and roast for 30-45 minutes. Check after 30 minutes — you are looking for the potatoes to be fork-tender and golden on the flat side. If they’re not ready yet, leave the potatoes to roast longer, still on the face side down.
  3. Meanwhile, the slivered almonds can be placed onto a baking tray and toasted for five minutes, then set aside for garnish.
  4. While the sweet potatoes are roasting, heat the extra-virgin olive oil in a large saute pan on medium-high heat. Add the sliced onions and let them fry in the oil until just slightly golden brown, about 5-7 minutes.
  5. Add the garlic and let this fry with the onion for about 2 minutes.
  6. Add the Spanish paprika, salt and brown sugar. Let this cook for 1 minute while continuously stirring.
  7. Add the sherry vinegar and turn off the heat. Stir until everything is combined, then set aside for finishing the dish.
  8. To assemble, remove the potatoes from the oven, and place them onto a large plate with the cut/golden side up. Using a spoon, smash the potatoes' cut side slightly to expose the interior.
  9. Spoon the onion mixture evenly across the potatoes then sprinkle the slivered almonds on top.
  10. Grate the cheddar or Manchego with a microplane across the entire plate of potatoes to cover with cheese.
  11. Garnish with chopped parsley if using.

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