I love sweet potatoes. Baked, roasted as wedges, souffled and topped with pecan praline, simmered in a soup–it’s all good. And if you haven’t topped roast sweet potato wedges with chili, well, you haven’t lived. So when I saw this dead simple recipe for baked sweet potatoes with brown sugar and black pepper in the November 2011 issue of Saveur Magazine I knew I had to try it.

My first thought was to have them with a rocket salad for a light veggie dinner. But seeing as I had three packs of free-range boneless chicken breasts in the fridge (courtesy of a sale at Tesco–I’ll never see these again, I’m certain) I thought I should use a couple. I also had half a savoy cabbage and some lime-thyme compound butter leftover from Tuesday’s dinner so it was “clear out the fridge night.”

This technique for cooking boneless chicken breasts is pretty foolproof. They were tender and juicy with a good crust. The compound butter added just the right amount of fat and herby goodness. Buttered cabbage is also a favorite of mine and a tiny bit of chicken broth gives it savor.  Sweet potatoes topped with brown sugar and butter are intrinsically delicious, but the black pepper  adds intriguing spicy and aromatic flavors. Oh, and do all three components contain butter? Score.

Sautéed chicken breast with lime-thyme butter, butter-braised cabbage and roast sweet potato with brown sugar and black pepper

I’ve intentionally not included measurements so you can feel free to experiment and play with the recipes.

Sautéed Chicken Breasts

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper

Pour some flour onto a plate. About 1/4 cup is good for four breasts. Rinse the chicken breasts and pat dry thoroughly with paper towels. It’s important they be completely dry. Sprinkle both sides of each breast with salt and pepper. Be generous. Press both sides of each breast into the flour. You can leave each on the plate as you go or set it aside.

Heat some butter and oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl the butter in the skillet as it heats. After the foaming subsides shake the chicken breasts to rid them of the excess flour and lay them in the skillet, tenderloin side down.

Sauté the chicken until browned on one side, about four minutes. The fat should be sizzling but not burning. Turn with tongs and sauté another four to five minutes. The chicken should be firm to the touch and nicely browned. Remove to plates and top with slices of lime-thyme butter.


  • The flour is important here because it prevents the outside of the chicken from getting hard. It also helps with browning.
  • Use any oil you like: olive, rapeseed, vegetable, what-have-you.
  • Use all oil instead of butter, but the chicken won’t brown as well.
  • Instead of the thyme-lime butter, swirl the fat in the pan with these combinations and pour over the chicken
    • Capers, lemon juice and parsley
    • Chopped olives, lemon juice, thyme and chile flakes
    • Chopped tomatoes (fresh or sundried) and basil
    • Minced garlic, cilantro (fresh coriander) and lime juice

Lime-thyme Compound Butter

Unsalted butter, softened
Fresh thyme, minced

Microwave the butter in a bowl for 10-20 seconds to soften, if necessary. Don’t let it melt. Stir in the thyme, zest, a bit of juice and a pinch of salt. Spoon onto one end of some cling film. Lift the end of the cling film and use it to roll the butter into a log. Wrap the butter log in the film and refrigerate until firm.


  • You can top all manner of things with a compound butter: poached or sautéed fish, steaks, pork chops.
  • Instead of lime use lemon or orange
  • Instead of thyme use parsley, cilantro, dill or fennel fronds

Butter-braised Cabbage

Salt and pepper
Chicken stock

Cut the cabbage into quarters lengthwise and cut out the core. If the cabbage is large cut the quarters in half again. Cut crosswise into fine shreds. Rinse in a colander but don’t shake the water off.

Melt the butter in a sauté pan (a frying pan with straight sides) or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the cabbage and salt and pepper to taste, stir and cover. Cook until tender, about ten minutes, stirring occasionally and finish with a few spoons of chicken stock.


  • If you don’t have chicken stock handy use a bit of boullion powder and water. I love a product called Better Then Boullion but I don’t think it’s available in Europe. Marigold Boullion is a great vegetarian option.
  • Savoy cabbage is great but any will do. Green or white cabbage will take longer to cook and sweetheart or york cabbage will take less time.

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Brown Sugar and Black Pepper
(Inspired by Saveur Magazine)

Sweet potatoes (large ones)
Unsalted butter
Dark brown sugar
Fresh-ground black pepper
Kosher or flakes sea salt

Heat oven to 425F, 220C, gas mark 7. Place sweet potatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake until soft, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove potatoes from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Split potatoes open and put a knob of butter and spoon of sugar into each potato. Season liberally (seriously, go nuts here, and I forbid you to use pre-ground) with black pepper. Finish with salt to taste.


  • Please, please use freshly-ground black pepper.
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4 Responses to Bill Cooks: Inspired by sweet potatoes

  1. It looks absolutely delicious! Must run in the family as I love sweet potatoes too!!!! Yum! :) Boy! I miss you two.

  2. Heather H says:

    Looks wonderful! I make sweet potatoes like that minus the pepper, I will have to try this version soon. Lol, I will certainly heed your pleading to use freshly ground. Miss you guys, hope you are over the jet lag.

    • Bill says:

      Thanks Heather! The pepper really takes the potatoes over the top. The jet lag is slowly fading and hopefully by the weekend we’ll be sleeping normally again.

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