Chef wages war on traditional Southern sweet potato preparation.
At Virginia Tech University, in Blacksburg, the dining services team had to create hundreds of recipes for the campus’s new Turner Place at Lavery Hall dining facility. Mark Moritz, senior executive chef, says that with these recipes he and the team felt it was key to keep things simple, which is exactly what he did with his Citrus Sweet Potatoes for the Southern portion of the grill station. Moritz spoke to FSD about his process to make this dish work.
“I try to keep everything as basic as possible to make it easy on our student employees—the simpler the better. One of the dishes I do is Citrus Sweet Potatoes. I developed this dish for Turner Place’s Fire Grill concept, which has two sides—a grill and a Southern comfort food side. This recipe is for our Southern comfort food side. Personally, I despise the Southern-style sweet potatoes with the brown sugar, nuts, mini marshmallows and all that junk. I can’t stand it. It’s bad for you. But I love sweet potatoes.
This dish is based on dauphinoise potatoes, which are just sliced white potatoes with garlic and heavy cream. With this one, because sweet potatoes don’t have starch to thicken things up, I decided to do layers of sweet potatoes and then a layer of russet potatoes. I did want the starch to thicken it up, but I wanted to use as many sweet potatoes as possible because of their health benefits.
I just wanted to show, not only my bosses but the students as well, that sweet potatoes have incredible flavor on their own. When they are enhanced, especially with citrus, it brings out the sweetness and the subtle flavors of the potato, so you don’t need to put all that other junk on them to make the dish good.
The first time I made the dish I made it with only sweet potatoes and it didn’t work because there was no starch. It was all wet and soupy. So I thought there were a couple of ways I could fix this. I could add cornstarch to the orange juice concentrate to thicken it up and that worked OK. Or instead of using the modified starch, I could do layers of the white potatoes in between the sweet potatoes and in the cooking process the starch in the russet potatoes would thicken up the orange juice and hold it all together. That worked better. Originally I also did try the dish with straight orange juice, but I found that even with the use of the white potatoes, it was still runny so it was far easier to either put the orange juice on the stove and reduce it or use straight orange juice concentrate, and the concentrate worked out a lot better.
Next I had a tasting with the team, which is made up of students, our director and other staff. We had it before the building was even finished so the menus were all set. We’re talking several hundred recipes that had to be tasted during this process. When you put the dish down and tell the tasters what it is and then leave to get another dish and you come back and they are licking the plate, that’s a good sign.”