You Need Char Siu Yams In Your Life

Grilled sweet potato wedges that taste just like Chinese barbecued pork. Who can resist?
Grilled sweet potato wedges that taste just like Chinese barbecued pork. Who can resist?

Imagine the smoky, sweet, star-anise warmth of everyone’s favorite Chinese barbecued pork.

Now, consider those same devilishly delightful flavors enveloping sweet potatoes instead.

That’s exactly what’s in store for your taste buds with “Char Siu Yams.”

This clever, addictive recipe is from “How to Grill Vegetables: The New Bible for Barbecuing Vegetables over Live Fire” (Workman Publishing) by one of America’s great grill meisters, Steven Raichlen.

In his myriad of grilling cookbooks, Raichlen has always included vegetables. But this book, of which I received a review copy, represents the first time he’s put the entire focus on them.

Learn how to grill, wood-smoke, cedar-plank, hay-smoke, and fire-blister veggies to add flavor and depth. The recipes span the gamut from “Smoked Hummus with Sesame Grilled Pita Chips,” “Rotisserie Brussels Sprouts with Turmeric Oil and Curry Leaves,” and “Nashville Hot Cauliflower” to “Cedar-Planked Eggplant Parmigiana,” ” Smoked Deviled Eggs with Wasabi,” and “Hasselback Apples Grilled on Cedar Planks.”

To make “Char Siu Yams,” you’ll need a disposable aluminum foil pan, plus wood chunks or wood chips (pre-soaked) for even more smoky flavor.

Just cut the yams or sweet potatoes into thick wedges, toss with sesame oil and melted butter, and grill in the pan with the lid closed until tender.

After tossing the sweet potatoes with the glaze continue grilling until the sauce reduces and coats them well.
After tossing the sweet potatoes with the glaze continue grilling until the sauce reduces and coats them well.

Then, mix up the easy glaze of honey, soy sauce, oyster sauce, Chinese rice wine, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, and five-spice powder, pour into the pan and coat the sweet potatoes, as you continue grilling them. They’re supposed to get a little crusty, though mine didn’t very much. No matter, what you end up with will please you to no end.

The sweet, soft sweet potato wedges end up tasting exactly like char siu. The Chinese five-spice is the key. Made of star anise, cinnamon, cloves, fennel seed, and either white pepper or Sichuan peppercorns, it provides the familiar sweet, warm, pepperiness we all know. So, don’t skip it.

The thick glaze has a big, expansive taste that’s sweet, savory and full of umami.

The sweet potatoes make a fine side to grilled steak, roast chicken or roast pork loin. Or a most satisfying main as a vegetarian version of char siu.

You'll find it very hard to stop eating these.
You’ll find it very hard to stop eating these.

Char Siu Yams

(Serves 4)

For the yams:

2 pounds garnet yams or your favorite sweet potato variety (try to choose yams with a smooth, even, tapered, cylindrical shape)

1 tablespoon dark (toasted) sesame oil, plus 1 tablespoon for the glaze

2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

For the glaze and garnish:

3 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or sake

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce

1 tablespoon dark (toasted) sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallion greens or chives, for garnish

Set up your grill for indirect grilling and heat to medium-high.

Scrub the yams. Cut each one lengthwise in quarters. Arrange the yams in a single layer in a disposable aluminum foil drip pan. Toss with the sesame oil and the melted butter.

Place the yams in their foil pan on the grill grate away from heat. If enhancing a charcoal fire, add 1-2 wood chunks or 1 cup wood chips (soaked in cold water for 30 minutes beforehand and drained). If enhancing a gas fire, place the chunks or chips in your grill’s smoker box or place chunks under the grate directly over one or more burners. Close the grill lid.

Smoke-roast the yams until almost tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Test with a skewer. It should pierce the yams easily. Stir a few times so they cook evenly.

Meanwhile, make the glaze. Combine the honey, soy sauce, oyster sauce, rice wine, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, and five-spice powder in a small bowl and whisk to combine.

Move the pan with the yams directly over the fire and direct grill until the exteriors are browned and crusty, about 3 minutes, stirring often.

Stir in the glaze and continue direct grilling until the glaze boils and thickens and coats the yams on all sides in a shiny lacquer, 2 to 4 minutes.

Arrange the yams in a shallow serving bowl or on plates. Sprinkle with the scallion greens and serve.

From “How to Grill Vegetables” by Steven Raichlen

More Steven Raichlen Recipes to Enjoy: Tea-Smoked Duck with Hoisin Barbecue Sauce

And: Thai Grilled Chicken with Lemongrass and Ginger

And: Chinatown Ribs

And: Ginger, Garlic, and Honey Grilled Baby Back Ribs

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  • Wow. I love sweet potatoes and yams, and as a matter of fact have a couple of pounds on hand right now. This looks wonderful — tons of flavor in this. Tons. 🙂 Thanks!

  • Hi John: Sounds like you probably have the makings on hand then to try this recipe. I guarantee you will love it. 😉

  • Is sauce compatible with other foods, or is it limited to sweet potatoes? I don’t barbecue, so can it be cooked in oven, or…….

  • Hi Lois: This sauce is so delicious that you can definitely use it on other things. It would be a great glaze for salmon, pork, shrimp or chicken. You could also drizzle it on roasted broccoli, green beans or cauliflower. It would also make a dynamite stir-fry sauce. As for the sweet potatoes, you can also roast them instead of grilling them. If you glaze them in the sauce toward the end of the cooking time, and put them back in the oven to continue roasting, just watch the sweet potatoes carefully. This sauce has a good amount of sugar in it, so it will burn easily at high heat. Enjoy!

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