This dish was originally inspired by the candied sweet potato mattang often served for dessert at Korean Chinese restaurants — it’s a piece of soft, white sweet potato dipped in caramel hard-candy coating to order, served on a toothpick. It’s a super sweet, fun and nostalgic treat that we love to get when we go out for Chinese food, and we wanted to honor our memory of it by creating a mattang-inspired dish to serve at Yangban Society, our restaurant in LA’s Arts District. The result isn’t nearly as sweet as its inspiration: Although the potatoes here are drizzled with caramel, the recipe also contains fish sauce, sliced shallots, and other savory ingredients. Fresh herbs, browned butter, cilantro, and lemon juice add additional depth and brightness to the dish, while toasted nuts contribute crunch. Taken as a whole, it’s a nuanced dish that works perfectly as a side on Thanksgiving or any other day.
We like to use Magic Myrna potatoes when they’re in season, but you can use fingerlings, small Yukons, or a peewee mix — really, any potato that you like will work. During the fall, sugar pie pumpkins or kuri, kabocha, or delicata squash are a great substitute for the potatoes, particularly if you don’t feel like deep-frying: You just halve them, remove the seeds, and roast them seasoned with kosher salt and drizzled with olive oil. Sometimes we also like to grill them for some smoky flavor and char before finishing them in the oven. Once they’re cooked and cooled, you scoop out the flesh with a large spoon and garnish it just like the twice-fried potatoes. Alternately, you can make this with Japanese white sweet potatoes (we coal-roast them whole), which brings the dish even closer to its original inspiration.
Roasted, Smashed, and Fried Magic Myrna Potatoes
Serves 4 to 6
For the caramel:
2 cups (200 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ cup water, divided
¼ cup fish sauce
2 large (7 ounces or 200 grams) fresh shallots, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic
1 small dried red chile or 1 pinch of red chile flakes
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pinch ground cinnamon
For the browned butter and nuts:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup roughly chopped hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, or pecans
For the potatoes and serving:
1 pound fingerling potatoes or small peewee mixed potatoes
1 pound russet potatoes, skin on, cut into 2-inch chunks
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
Vegetable oil, for frying
2 tablespoons caramel sauce
¼ cup fried shallots (store-bought is fine)
1 scallion, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons cilantro leaves
Juice of ½ to 1 whole lemon, to taste
Step 1: First, make the caramel. Combine the sugar, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, swirling the pan from time to time, until the sugar syrup turns a medium brown (just past amber), about 5 minutes.
Step 2: Remove the pan from the heat and add the fish sauce, remaining 2 tablespoons water, shallots, garlic, chile, black pepper, and cinnamon. Be careful, as the mixture will sputter when the fish sauce and water are added. Return the pan to medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is well combined. Remove from the heat, let cool for 10 minutes, and strain into a glass jar, discarding the solids. (You will have more caramel sauce than you need. It can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container indefinitely. You can use it for a lot of things: With a little lemon or lime juice mixed in, the caramel sauce is great on baked potatoes, roasted pork belly, fried chicken, or chicken wings.)
Step 3: Next, make the browned butter and nuts. Melt the butter in a saute pan over medium heat. The butter should get foamy and frothy but not immediately brown. If it begins to turn brown and smoke, reduce the heat. Add the nuts and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the butter is brown and nuts are toasted, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the butter and nuts from the pan, season with kosher or sea salt, and cool to room temperature. Set aside.
Step 4: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with the convection on if your oven has it. Toss the potatoes with the olive oil and salt and pour onto a rimmed baking sheet in an even layer. Roast until fork-tender, stirring once, about 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. While the potatoes are still warm, press them with the bottom of a juice glass so they are slightly smashed, but still in one piece.
Step 5: Pour enough vegetable oil into a medium saucepan to come up to a depth of 2 inches. Heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fat thermometer clipped to the side of the pan registers 325 to 350 degrees. Line the baking sheet used to roast the potatoes with paper towels. Fry the potatoes in batches until they are crisp and golden brown, then place them on the paper towels as they are done.
Step 6: Transfer the potatoes to a large serving bowl. Drizzle with about 2 tablespoons of the caramel sauce and stir to coat. Sprinkle the top with the browned butter, nuts, fried shallots, scallions, cilantro, and a generous squeeze of lemon juice. Serve immediately.
Katianna and John Hong are co-chefs and partners at Yangban Society, a Korean American restaurant and super in LA’s Arts District.
Dina Ávila is a photographer in Portland, Oregon.
Recipe tested by Ivy Manning