We find it all over the Caribbean, with small variations but always the same result, a light and delicious dish, though if eaten to excess it could feel heavy. I’m referring to Pastelón de Yuca, a dish whose origin is the subject of some friendly dispute among Dominicans, Cubans and other inhabitants of the Caribbean islands.
Yuca, or cassava, originates in South America and was one of the most used staples in pre-Columbian times. Known by different names according to the region, yuca was an important diet of the natives. The famous casabe, or yuca bread, goes back centuries.
The pastelón can be stuffed with other ingredients, such as meat, fish or cheese. Regardless of the type, its preparation is very similar. You must begin by boiling the yuca. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The key is to choose fresh yuca properly.
For those not very familiar with this root, every yuca might look similar. But when you peel them, you will find they are not. Any patches of dark color or yellowish flesh are indicators that that yuca is past its prime and not worth eating. The flesh should be firm and white. When at the market, try breaking off a tip of the root and looking at the color. If the tip doesn’t break cleanly but instead bends a bit, it’s also a sign that it’s no longer good.
The boiling of the yuca is a critical step and you’ll want the flesh to remain as white as possible. Yuca tends to turn yellowish as it cooks. A neat trick to keep it from turning yellow is to add some white vinegar or lemon juice near the end of cooking.
The real flavor of the recipe lies with the sofrito, a tomato cooking base common in Latin Caribbean cuisine. Some think the more ingredients in the sofrito the better. Nothing could be further from the truth. So before you add the tomato sauce, you’ll want to cook some green onions, pimientos, garlic, olives, tomatoes and paprika to extract their flavors and which will then be infused into the tomato sauce.
The sofrito will make or break your pastelón. Yuca itself is rich in starch but lacks flavor. The pastelón will be the package to bring all the ingredients and flavors together. It may be served with a green salad and a light dressing. A glass of semi-dry white wine is an appropriate choice of beverage.
4 pounds frozen yuca
1 cup 1% milk
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 pounds boneless chicken breast
1 carrot, sliced
3 garlic cloves
1 celery stalk
1 Spanish onion
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium Spanish onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, skinless and seedless, diced
1 red pepper, skinless and deveined, diced
1 green pepper, skinless and deveined, diced
3 scallions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped
6 tablespoons pimento-stuffed green olives, sliced
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
8 ounces tomato sauce
2 hard-boiled eggs, diced
1½ ounces raisins
4 ounces low-fat mozzarella cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon sugar
1. Preheat oven to 400º F.
2. Boil yuca in salted water at medium-high heat until tender. Drain and place in a large pan. Add warm milk and olive oil. Purée and set aside.
3. Boil chicken breasts in salted water with carrot, onion, celery and garlic. Cook at medium-high heat for approximately 20 minutes or until fully cooked (check that the center of the chicken is not pink). Remove from liquid, let rest and shred.
4. Heat oil in a large frying pan. Add onion and cook for 3 minutes at medium heat until translucent. Add garlic, pepper, tomato, scallions, cilantro, 2 tablespoons of olives and paprika. Cook an additional 2–3 minutes.
5. Add tomato sauce, stir and cook uncovered for an additional 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6. Add shredded chicken to the mixture and cook for 4–5 minutes at low heat.
7. Spray cooking oil on a rectangular nonstick 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking pan. Moisten your hands and place half the yuca in the baking pan. Spread yuca with your hands until all sides of the pan are covered.
8. Place the chicken over the yuca. Cover with eggs, raisins and stuffed olives. Spread the cheese and cover with the remaining yuca.
9. Mix the egg yolk with the sugar and brush it on the yuca.
10. Bake 25–30 minutes or until golden-brown. Remove from oven and let rest for approximately 30 minutes before serving.
To learn more about me or my recipes, visit me at DenisseOller.com and at AARP, where I am a chef and nutrition expert.