Yams have a bad name, and that is terribly unjust. At this time of year,
every supermarket has a large display of those orange tins, and therein lies the
problem, for there are few things less appetizing than tinned yams. Everyone has
some formula of goo to mix with them, and a bag of marshmallows to hide what
they are, in hopes they will become edible. Diners feel obliged to take a bit on
their plates, but they are seldom finished.
How did this come to be? Every suggested holiday menu assures readers that
candied yams are a necessary and delicious part of American feasts, but nobody
wants to eat them. Nobody that is who buys tinned yams. That is the problems,
fresh yams are indeed wonderful, but those tins should be in the dog food aisle.
Too many cooks have forgotten how to prepare fresh yams. This ignorance began in
the 1950s when magazines were full of recipes using newly available tinned and
frozen foods, in the name of progress. That era was responsible for such
culinary horrors as TV dinners and instant coffee. It is time to right the
wrongs of the past.
This begins in the produce section of the market. There are always plenty of
fresh yams on display. A smart consumer buys the smallest, thinnest ones
available. Yes, I know that those three pound whoppers look fascinating, but the
larger the yam, the more stringy and tough it is. The long narrow ones have just
the right texture.
If yams are to be candied, mashed, used in puddings, pies or salads: they must
be baked first. First, wash them. Then, place them in a pan which has been lined
with tinfoil. Don't forget the foil, or you will do a lot of scrubbing later.
Place the yams in the oven at 350 degrees. For how long? That is quite variable.
You are going to bake them until juices start to run onto the foil. Do not
remove them from the oven until this happens, or their sugars will not be fully
developed. This will take between 1-2 hours. Once baked and chilled, they will
keep in the refrigerator for a week. Just leave them in their skins until you
want to use them.
You may also fry raw yams in any way that you would use potatoes. The only
difference is that they must be peeled first. I strongly recommend them for home
fries and latkes.
Baked yams can be served in the same way and with the same garnishes as baked
If you want to serve mashed yams, they are tender enough to mash with a fork
using the same seasonings as for mashed white potatoes.
The simplest and most delicious way to candy yams is to pour real maple syrup
over them, sprinkle a few pecans on top, and bake until heated through.
If you would like to do something a little more exotic, make them into home
fries with onions, and seasoned with a mix of one part each: curry powder,
cinnamon, and ginger.
Cold cooked yams can be used in any recipe for potato salad, and thus done
provide an interesting bit of variety to buffets.