Yuca Frita con Salsa a la Huancaína
I am grounded. So completely grounded. Scheduled to return to New York just after Christmas, my flight was canceled because of the blizzard and I’m still in Miami. Desperate to get back in the sno-globe, I spent hours refreshing the Continental Airlines app to check flights and badgering Ask Alex – the virtual “expert” on their site – with questions. Only getting back canned answers and unhelpful links, she’s become my sworn enemy. Still, there are worse (and colder) places to be stranded and I don’t mind having more time with Christmas leftovers. A couple of weeks ago, I made salsa a la huancaína over yuca frita. With piles of yuca left over from Nochebuena dinner, I thought it would be a good time to post the recipe (now that I suddenly have all the time in the world). It’s taken me awhile to make huancaína sauce. Until recently, I felt alone in my search for the Peruvian aji amarillo it required. Sunny like cilantro it burns cheerfully and it’s hard to find a substitute. There are so many varieties of peppers and chiles in the market stalls that I hoped they’d add it to their selection of exotic produce in response to rising demand. Literally translated as “yellow chile,” I had a hard time explaining to vendors at Union Square that I was looking for more than a chile that was yellow. The few places who’d carried it in the past, couldn’t tell me when or if they’d be getting it back in. Then, after a few failed excursions, I was finally able to find a jar of aji amarillo preserved in brine, a back-up jar of the pureed paste, and even a marmalade of aji amarillo blended with mango – so I couldn’t have been the only one asking after all. I made some adjustments for the concentrated flavor of the jarred variety since most Peruvian recipes assume you have fresh peppers at hand and whipped it up quickly while the yuca cooled off.
Though the sauce is typically served over boiled potatoes, one of my favorite holiday traditions is having freshly fried yuca on Christmas day so I wanted to try an alternative to the garlic aioli we usually have on the side. Stopping to take pictures before digging in, I realized it was probably the longest a plate of fried yuca had ever survived before me or anyone else in my family since we usually devour them faster than my aunt can make them. This year I had to let two batches go before I got to have any at all. It was the food equivalent of letting a full subway car (or full flights) go on without you. Frustrating at first but okay as long as you eventually get to where you’re going. Safe travels.
Yuca Frita con Salsa a la Huancaína
Adapted and translated from Yanuq.
1 or 2 yucas, peeled, rinsed, and cut into chunks
(fresh or frozen) Canola oil for frying
2/3 cups of milk
3-5 aji amarillo, jarred in brine, drained, seeded, and chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small yellow onion, chopped
5-6 ounces of queso fresco (feta or ricotta)
Salt to taste
Place yuca in a large heavy pot with enough cold water to cover by two inches. Add about 2 tablespoons of salt and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Adjust heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook the yuca until it’s tender but not too soft, about 15-20 minutes, and drain well. When cool enough to handle, cut into 3-inch pieces and set aside.
Add the oil to a large heavy skillet, about 2-3″ deep. Heat over medium-high heat to 365 degrees. Working in batches, carefully add yuca to oil. Gently turn until brown on all sides, about 3-4 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels or re-purposed grocery paper bags. Sprinkle with sea salt.
Using a food processor or blender, puree the milk and peppers until smooth. Heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté onions until transluscent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and continue to cook and additional minute. Add the onions and cheese to the blender and puree until smooth. Add additional olive oil until creamy.
Serve fries hot and dip away.