Other Names: Cassava, mandioca, manioc

General Description: Yuca (Manihot esculenta) is a bland, brown-skinned starchy tuber that is native to Brazil. In Brazil, this classic vegetable is know as aipim as a fresh vegetable and mandioca when processed for flour. Yuca was first domesticated by Amazon Indians thousands of years ago. Their name for manioc, sekatsi, meant “food.” Yuca is widely used today throughout the Caribbean, Central America, South America, Indonesia, and Polynesia.

Amazonians bred two types of yuca: sweet and bitter. Both types contain two substances that react together to produce poisonous prussic acid as soon as the tubers are uprooted. Sweet yuca (Manihot dulcis), the kind sold in U.S. markets, has a lower yield than bitter yuca but contains only a small amount of poison, which is concentrated in the skin. After peeling and cooking, sweet yuca may be safely eaten and will have a sweet, nutty flavor and creamy, rich texture. Bitter yuca is specially treated to form flakes, seeds, and pearls of tapioca. Note that yuca is not the same as yucca, though the two are often confused. Yucca is related to the agave plant from which tequila is distilled.

Season: Yuca is available year-round, especially at Asian and Hispanic markets.

Purchase: Look for firm, evenly shaped cylindrical spears of yuca that are rock hard. Note that yuca is normally waxed.

Avoid: There should be not streaks or darkening near the skin when the yuca is cut open. Avoid yuca with soft spots, blemishes, bald spots, mold, hairline cracks, or stickiness.

Storage: Yuca can be stored at room temperature for up to 1 week. Store peeled yuca covered in water in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Preparation: Note: Never eat raw yuca as it contains small amounts of poisonous compounds.

  1. Cut off and discard 1/2 inch off the tip and bottom of the yuca.
  2. Pare the yuca of its outer brown skin and inner purple-colored layer until only white flesh remains, cutting away any dark areas.
  3. Using a heavy knife, cut the yuca into length-wise quarters, placing peeled yuca immediately in water.
  4. There is a set of tough strings running down the center of large yuca roots. Cut away and discard the inner quarter of the yuca which contains the strings.

Serving Suggestions: Boil yuca in water with a little vinegar and salt about 15 minutes or until tender and translucent, drain well, then fry in oil until golden brown and crisp, about 10 minutes, turning so the spears cook evenly, then sprinkle with a mixture of salt, chopped garlic, and pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika). Press shredded yuca onto seasoned flounder fillets, then pan-fry and serve with chopped cilantro and a line wedge.

Food Affinities: Beef, cheese, chiles, cilantro, fish, garlic, lime, red onion, seafood, sour orange.

from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com