Yuca fries are wonderfully crisp on the outside and gently soft in the middle. They are easy to make and just begging to be dipped in your favorite sauce. While best fresh, they keep their crispness well, so perfect to make ahead and share as a snack (if they last that long!)
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I first tried these many years ago now when I lived in New York. A friend of mine took me to a new restaurant and basically said she didn't mind what else we had but we had to have the yuca fries as they were addictively good. And she wasn't wrong.
While we might not have them that often, I have since discovered that you can make them just as wonderfully tasty at home, too. Especially with the right sauce to sip them in (for me, that's aji verde, aka Peruvian green sauce).
What is yuca?
Yuca, which also goes by the name of cassava, is a root vegetable that is believed to have first been cultivated in Peru thousands of years ago. It is now grown in many countries with a tropical climate and a key part of the diet in many, too.
It's worth pointing out that yuca and yucca are not the same thing. While some people use the spelling "yucca" to mean this vegetable, technically it's not correct. Yucca is a different plant, more like a flowering cactus that you'll find in the Southern US and Mexico.
Part of yuca's popularity is because the plant is very drought tolerant, can be grown in poor soil and the root is rich in complex carbohydrates. But you do have to take care to prepare it properly to ensure toxins are removed: you can't eat it raw.
Yuca can be used in much the same way as potatoes and also made into a flour to bake with. You'll find many traditional and staple dishes using it, and these fries are one you'll find in a few places in Central and South America.
Steps to prepare these fries
Preparing yuca is a little more time consuming than making potato fries, but it's still pretty easy. The main reason for this is that you need to boil the yuca first. You can, in theory, cut the vegetable into fry-shaped batons at the start, but it's pretty firm. It's much easier to do most of the cutting after boiling.
Simply take these steps:
- Trim the ends and cut the root into sections. Take care as it's a pretty firm vegetable.
- Peel off the skin - you can score it to break it and it should peel relatively easily.
- Place the chunks in a pot with water and boil until tender. You will see the root open up in the middle as it cooks. When the middle opens, this is a sign it's about there. In some cases, it may break in half - don't worry as you are going to break it up further anyway.
- Remove from the water, drain and let it cool.
- Break the chunks open and remove the tough middle fiber. Cut into fry-sized pieces - often it will break a bit on it's own, then cut further as needed.
- Fry in oil until crisp. You'll see the pieces become golden on the outside.
- Drain excess oil then enjoy.
How to vary crispness
You can vary exactly how crisp you make these in a couple ways. One is how you cut them - the thinner the pieces, the higher amount of crisp outside compared to softer inside you'll get. The amount that becomes crisp on a piece of yuca is more than say potatoes, so do keep this in mind. Thin slices may be crisp almost the whole way through.
The other part is how long you cook them. If you cook slightly longer, they will get crisper. Just take care not to cook too long or at too high a heat and burn them.
As I mention above, one of the great things about these is that they stay crisp really well. Unlike potatoes, they don't really soften over time. While they are best freshly made, my kids quite happily dive into them cold as well thanks to this crispness. Oh, and the sauce to dip in helps too, of course.
If you prefer not to have them as crisp, an alternative is to bake them. Baking also uses less oil, so they are a little healthier, but they don't have quite that same crisp texture (which for me, I definitely prefer).
What do you serve with yuca fries?
You can choose pretty much whatever you like to go with these from a sauce perspective as they go with just about anything! Traditionally, you'll find a few different sauces served with them, partly depending on location and partly preference.
In Peru, you'll often find these these with aji verde, the popular green sauce made with herbs, mayo and aji amarillo. Elsewhere, you might find them with ketchup, 'rose' sauce (ketchup and mayo blend), avocado sauce or aioli (garlic mayo).
In the Caribbean, you may find them with a mojo sauce made with orange and garlic, while they may be drizzled with chimichurri in Southern parts of Latin America. You might also find them with grated cheese on top which is also tasty. I've also heard of them dredged in cinnamon sugar to be served churro-style.
Really, there are so many possibilities!
Yuca fries are a wonderfully crisp, crunchy snack or side and so versatile in what you serve with them. Perfect for dipping, they're a tasty alternative to other types of fries. One to add to the menu soon!
Try these other crunchy snacks:
- Baked pita chips
- Cauliflower pakora
- Chorizo cheese twists
- Plus get more snack recipes, both savory and sweet, in the archives.
- 19 oz yuca approx (this gives 15oz-1lb/425-450g peeled and trimmed weight)
- ½ teaspoon salt approx, to taste
- 1.5 - 2 cups vegetable oil approx - to make a layer deep enough in skillet/frying pan
- aji verde, Peruvian green sauce to serve, or sauce of own choice
- Trim the ends off the yuca root and cut it into approximately 3-4 lengths of similar length. Take care and use a sharp knife as it can be difficult to cut.
- Score through the skin up and down (so from one cut edge to the other) just enough to break the skin rather than cut into the main root. Then using either the knife or your fingers, open up the skin and peel it off. There should be two layers of skin you want to remove - the thin outer dark layer and a slightly thicker white layer. They should both come off easily together after scoring through, but if needed, use a vegetable peeler to remove any still left.
- Place the peeled chunks of yuca into a pot large enough to hold them all in a layer. Fill the pot with cold water so the yuca pieces are completely submerged.
- Add some salt to the water, cover then place over a medium heat to bring to a boil. Once boiling, simmer for approximately 20 - 30 minutes until the yuca is tender. The middle of the root will open up and the pieces may break open a little which is fine and a sign it is cooked.
- Remove the pieces from the water and let them cool a minute or two until cool enough to handle. Then cut the pieces in half and remove the inner tough core.
- Cut the main root into strips - you can split as they naturally break then cut further as needed. You can make them whatever thickness suits - thicker will have more soft middle relative to the crisp outside after frying, thinner will be more crisp throughout. Leave the pieces to cool to room temperature and dry a little more.
- Fill a small-medium skillet/frying pan with oil to create a layer around 1in/2.5cm. You want it deep enough so that the yuca pieces can be submerged when you add them (though they will tend to float up). Warm the oil over a medium-high heat until warm but not starting to smoke.
- Add a few pieces of yuca to the oil so that you don't have huge spaces between pieces but also don't overcrowd the pan. Fry the yuca pieces in batches like this, turning once for around 3 - 5 minutes per side until they are golden and crisp. Remove the cooked fries from the oil using a slotted spoon and drain them on kitchen paper/paper towel. Repeat with rest of yuca pieces.
- Serve ideally warm, freshly cooked (although room temperature works) with aji verde or your choice of dipping sauce.
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