The Yam

The holidays encapsulate many things, perhaps a unique meaning for each person. To explain simply for myself what the holidays are, I would choose one word: family. Of all the holidays, I would choose Thanksgiving to be my favorite. The crisp, damp air; leaves descending like snow, the spicy scent of the air, the wafting scents of baked goods and the delight of warming yourself with hot liquid and steaming victuals: the very season in which it sits is divine. There is also the heart behind the day itself: Simply to be grateful, and we are all in need of more of that.

There was the first holiday in my known recollection, when my dad burned the turkey but insisted we consume the blackened, dry, bland meat anyway because wasting food would not be heard of. There was the one of 2008, which was a doozy. My mother declared frustration and gave up the stress and expectations in lieu of take-n-bake pizza and litre upon litre of cold, fizzy pop. In 2012, I hosted at my apartment when both of my roommates were out of town. My entire family crammed into the tiny space and the menu was a hodge-podge of recipes that I had chosen based upon the advice of my siblings and included horseradish cheddar mashed potatoes and tarte tatin. Delicious, but…compatible? That’s still up for debate. That year, there were also Sweet Potatoes with Bourbon Maple Glaze, which my mother raved about and said they were the best she had ever had. I felt good about them, although not as good as I could feel, so I made notes about the recipe and changed it accordingly, but failed to test it.

This year, I made the revised addition and served it and it was still appreciated by yet more people. This may become a staple in the holiday arsenal, for this year I loved it too. I’m glad I gave these another chance, and maybe you should give them a first one. You should know that the sauce is not so strong that it overpowers the flavor of the yams themselves, but it is strong enough to be a delicious compliment to the natural sweetness and stay far away from the zone of “cloying”. The bitterness of the coffee pairs exceptionally well with the maple syrup and because the yams are roasted in butter, you get some buttery familiarity of the traditional “yam casserole” but without any of the traditional dreadfulness.

You still have a chance to make them; after all, in December, every day is a cause for celebration. And if you’re not as sentimental as I, there is always still Christmas, and perhaps, if my praise of this recipe is in any way influential, you can make these for that. (My brother, in fact, asked me to make them again for Christmas at the dinner table tonight.)


Glazed Yams with Coffee and Maple

1 1/2 cups strong, hot coffee
7 tablespoons pure grade a maple syrup
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
6 tablespoons rye whiskey
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large yams (orange fleshed sweet potatoes)
extra virgin olive oil, as needed
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
salt and pepper, to taste

In a small sauce pot, combine coffee, maple syrup and sugar. Bring to a boil, cook for 5 minutes and reduce to a simmer. Add the rye whiskey, butter and salt. Simmer over medium-low heat for 45 minutes, until the sauce is reduced by about 2/3 (the final amount of sauce should be about 3/4 cup). The sauce should coat a spoon, but remain sauce-like as it cools.

Meanwhile, slice the yams about 1/4 inch thick. In a large casserole dish, drizzle the sliced yams with butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper (add oil if needed). Stir until well coated, roast at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the yams are fork tender, checking throughout and adding time if needed.

When the yams are cooked, remove them from the oven and pour the sauce over. Stir gently but well until all yams are evenly coated. Serve warm, not hot.


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