Hasslebacks and Horsekillers

I made these hasselbacks for Sunday dinner with the most beautiful little sweet potatoes I picked up at the market on Saturday. They were misshapen, small, pale peach colored, not even in the same family as the bloated, cloying sugar bombs you get at the supermarket. “Do you know about hasselbacks?” I asked Andy when I pulled them out of the oven. He did not. “They look like little armadillos swimming in butter,” he said, which is pretty much exactly right. He had been going back and forth between the kitchen and the patio, where he was brushing pork chops with a soy glaze and downing a strong gin and tonic, but not as strong as the one I had made myself. It was the kind of drink Andy’s dad might call a horsekiller. All weekend the drinks had been horsekillers. On Friday, the horsekillers even started before 6:00 — something I never do — but I was still shaken by events of Thursday, when Abby broke her arm playing soccer. “They’re so fun looking,” Andy said poking at the potatoes.

They’re also kind of fussy and annoying. You have to take a really sharp knife and slice until you’re almost all the way through, but not quite. It’s detail work, and I’m not a detail girl. You can probably see in the photo that I ended up cutting all the way through on a few of them. (I’m sure the varsity Hasselbackers out there are crying rookie.) Let me tell you how much I cared, though: NOT AT ALL. I appreciated the opportunity to apply some laser focus to an organic sweet potato instead of letting my mind wander everywhere else. When you get a call saying your kid is in “tremendous pain,” being taken off the field in an ambulance, and you are downtown during rush hour, about two hours from getting to her, it takes a few days to settle your brain again.

As for stomachs settling, that didn’t take nearly as long, especially for the patient. In fact, all weekend, we seemed to be on one giant Get Well Food Tour. (Abby on Friday Afternoon: “I feel like brownie batter, not brownies.” Me: “Coming right up.” Abby on Friday Night: “Can we go out to Hibachi tonight?” Andy: “What time should we make the rez and who do you want to bring?” Abby on Saturday: “I feel like a Walter’s Hot Dog for lunch.” Us: “Leaving in five.”)

This is to say nothing of the sweets. We made her favorite brown butter apple pie even though the apples aren’t quite there yet. Her sister and a friend baked a batch of Playdate cookies (page 139, Dinner: A Love Story) which turned out even more crispy-chewy than usual. Abby’s grandparents came by on Sunday for a sympathy call bringing some local artisanal chocolates and a lifetime’s supply of Twizzlers, Abby’s newest candy obsession.

By the time Sunday dinner rolled around, we were ready to right the ship with those grilled pork chops and a salad made with bunches of greens that looked like bridal bouquets. The vendor at the market told me they were some version of Bibb, but I can’t for the life of myself remember…maybe red oak….

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Gorgeous right? I tore these up into bite-size leaves, then tossed with (also super fresh) yellow cherry tomatoes, Pecorino Romano, scallions, chives, and my favorite dressing.

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The kid knows what she likes.


Hasselback Sweet Potatoes

9-10 small, superfresh sweet potatoes (as shown)
6 tablespoons butter
toppings: chives, salt, pepper, sour cream (mix in a teaspoon of miso to a quarter cup of sour cream if you have it)

Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Using a sharp knife, slice each potato as shown, cutting almost-but-not-quite all the way through. The potato should still hold together. Place potatoes in a baking dish. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Using a pastry brush (or a spoon) brush butter all over potatoes — including its crevices — reserving about two tablespoons. Bake in oven for 30 minutes, brushing them with reserved butter every ten minutes or so. Larger potatoes might need more time in the oven — look for the edges and skins of the potatoes to be shriveled and soft. Serve with toppings. Next time I’m experimenting with miso in there somewhere.

Gin & Tonics: I trust you can figure out how to turn it into a horsekiller; Soy-Glazed Pork Chops, page 246 How to Celebrate Everything; Brownie Batter: See Teacup Brownie Sundaes, page 95 HTCE; Brown Butter Apple Pie, page 193 HTCE.

Kitchen Still Life with Medicine. (Missing: Bombay Sapphire.)

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22 Comments

aitchess

Good reminder to look for potatoes at my farmer’s market again!
Is that by chance a commissioned portrait of your pup? If so, would you share the artist?

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Jenny

Poor thing, hope she is feeling better! Not sure where I read this trick for Hasselback potatoes (maybe even my food bible Bon Appetit?!) but to stop from slicing all the way through them, put chopsticks on either side!

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Emily Costello

I’ve never made Hasslebacks, but I just had this idea for cutting: What about inserting a skewer through the short end of the potato (toward the bottom) through to the other side? Then as you cut, your knife will hit the skewer rather than going all the way through the potato.

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Elemjay

Nigella recipe says put the potato in a wooden spoon – the edge of the spoon stops the knife going all the way through.

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Tina

I’ve heard that a great way not to cut all the way through is to put a chopstick on either side of the potato.

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Juliet

Try basting with some lemon juice -it gives a lovely flavour as it caramelises during cooking. And lots of sea salt. And of course you can do this with regular potatoes too! Also, you can do these in the microwave if you can’t be bothered turning the oven on and waiting 30+ minutes!

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Kelly Fisher

Hasselback cutting is made much easier with either chopsticks or wooden spoons on either side of the sweet potato. They act as a guide/barrier for overzealous slicing (on my part anyway).

Good luck to your daughter, no fun at all.

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Jenny

LOL that made me laugh — though this might be less a case of celebrating than “throwing food at the problem.”

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Kristin

Poor Abby! And poor you guys–nothing worse than your child being hurt and you can’t get to her. Your description of being stuck downtown made me tear up. I hope you are all feeling better this week.

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Bean613

I appreciate that you use food to comfort. So often, we hear not to comfort with food and I just think that it’s a very unhelpful narrative. I think the key is balance (as you alluded to in your post) and identifying when comfort is truly needed (broken arm – yes, got a speeding ticket – probably not).

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Awads

Poor Abby!! I am neurotic about not missing my son’s soccer games b/c i fear that will be the one time he breaks an arm or something (even though that could happen ANY time like, say, during practice, which i am all too happy to miss!). In any event, those soy glazed pork chops are everything! so glad i own a copy of HTCE! and, yes, i’ll mate it with a horsekiller any time! (but i’d never wait until 6:00!).

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Candina

Oh, my gosh. Poor Abby. A broken arm sounds pretty run-of-the-mill until it happens to your child. My 10-year-old recently broke her arm roller skating and we’re almost on the other side of it — two surgeries later. One more to go to take the rods out of her bones and she’ll finally be back to normal. Sending good wishes for a speedy recovery to Abby.

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Emily

1) I just made hasselback pork (Stuffed with spinach, tomatoes, and feta) on Tuesday.
2) My son just got out of a cast for a broken arm, also on Tuesday.
2.1) we celebrated the cast removal with ice cream. And hasselback pork. The ice cream went over better with the kids.
3) the worst separation from a sick child story in our family (and funniest) – I was at the hospital with my son 2 years ago and my husband was at work an hour away. He had some unexpected diagnostics and had to go to surgery urgently. I tried to reach my husband on his cell but couldn’t, so I finally called his work and asked for him. Turned out he was with his boss… doing his annual review. I still tease him about the depths to which he will sink for brownie points.

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Emily

I realized in all of that I forgot to say I hope Abby gets well soon, and that the family equilibrium swings back to normal quickly.

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