Peruvian duck stew with yuca gnocchi

I’ve been on a make-your-own-carb kick lately (see rice noodlespizza dough, and ravioli, though you’ll have to trust me on that one since there’s no blog post to prove it). Most recently, I expanded my repertoire to include gnocchi, but with a bit of a twist.

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I was already part way through cooking a Peruvian style duck and not-quite-panicking about what accompaniment to serve with the duck. Pervuian home cooked stews are often served with rice and/or yuca. Though I had both at home, I knew that serving either rice or yuca would be too traditional for what I was going for. In a flash of brilliance insanity I realized that yuca had the right characteristics to be made into gnocchi. Gnocchi is traditionally made with mashed potatoes and flour*, which are formed into small nubbins before being boiled for a few minutes, creating a delicious food that is somewhere between pasta and dumpling.

Sidenote: there are other kinds of gnocchi as well, such as those that are made with ricotta and use egg as a binder. These often have a softer texture, commonly described as “pillowy,” but I prefer the bite and chew that you get with the more glutinous flour and potato based dough.

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Yuca, also called casava, is a very starchy root common common throughout the Americas, and behaves similarly to potatoes. When boiled they both have similar textures, and just like potatoes, one of the best ways to enjoy yuca is cut into thin strips and fried. I assumed that the starchiness of yucas would make them good candidates for a potato substitute in gnocchi.

Yuca is a bit stickier than potato, and when pureed turned into a very glutinous paste. You will have to use more flour when making the gnocchi with yuca than for a comparable amount of potatoes. The nice thing about the starchiness of the yuca is that you don’t have to worry about the gnocchi break apart when boiled. I considered using an egg as a binder but as I was working the dough realized that would not be necessary. The boiled wonderfully, and came out with a slightly denser, chewier texture, and a sweeter taste compared to traditional gnocchi.

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I don’t want to talk breathlessly about gnocchi to the exclusion of the duck, which was close to masterful if I do say so myself. The duck was prepared using a tried and true marinade I have used many times before. In fact, it’s quite similar to the marinade used for the beef tongue in the taco recipe. But at least as important as the marindae is the long cook time. In the end you’re left with a deeply flavorful and tender duck. The bit of heat from the spices is tempered by the tomato paste in the sauce and the sweetness of gnocchi.

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Yuca gnocchi

serves                  4
difficulty             moderate
cook time           45-60 minutes

On yuca

Yuca can sometimes be difficult to find. You’ll have the best luck at a grocery that carries a lot of ingredients from Latin American. If you’re in the south and you have a Fiesta grocery near you, you’ll almost certainly find yuca there. I don’t have the good fortune of living near a Fiesta, but typically have the best luck at Whole Foods.

Selecting yuca is not always easy. Look for those that are very firm and don’t have too many crevices, which can become moldy.

On gnocchi making

The yuca should be boiled until tender, but avoid over boiling since the root will become waterlogged and will require more flour to create the dough than we really want. I have included below the ratio that I found worked when created my gnocchi. However, you will have to do this by feel since every yuca will be different, changing the amount of flour you need.

When mixed, the dough should be tacky, but not sticky. You should still be able to form it into a ball and work the dough, though a bit may stick to your hands. This makes gnocchi different from other pasta dough, which should spring back when pressed and not stick to your finger.

Since yucca gnocchi dough is tackier, you will need to make sure your work surfaces are well floured. Additionally, I found that the dough does not hold a shape as well as potato gnocchi. I tried making the typical ridges with the tines of a fork but they were barely visible. In the end I preferred rolling to dough into a long, skinny tube and cutting into what look like little pillows.

Ingredients

600 grams / 1¼ lb yuca
5 grams /1 tsp salt
150 grams / 1½ cup sifted all-purpose flour


  1. Set a medium pot of water to boil.
  2. Meanwhile, peel the waxy skin off of the yuca with a peeler. Cut the yuca into cylinders about 5-6 inches long. Cut each cylinder in half. Note: proceed carefully. Yucas are very hard and can be difficult to cut. Boil yuca until tender, about 20 minutes.
  3. Remove yuca from water and let cool until the pieces can be handled. You will see a semi transparent layer of skin starting to peel away from the meat of the yuca. Remove this layer from the yuca. Remove the thin, fibrous core from the yuca.
  4. Place yuca in a food processor and add the salt. Blend on medium speed until it resembles a thick, sticky paste. There will be small chucks of yuca in the mixture (this is fine).
  5. Remove yuca from food processor and place in large mixing bowl. Add about one third of the sifted flour and use your hands to incorporate into the dough (I do this one handed since it’s so sticky and I want to keep my other hand free). Add another third of the flour and continue to incorporate. Continue adding flour and kneading the dough until it loses it’s tackiness. The dough will still be sticky but you should be able to form shapes without it sticking to your hands.
  6. Pinch off about a quarter of the dough. On a floured work surface, roll the dough into a skinny cylinder about 3/4 inches thick. Using a sharp knife or pastry cutter, cut into ½ wide pieces. The gnocchi will resemble little pillows. Alternatively, you can also use your hands to roll small pieces of dough into a ball then form into a rectangle. I tried this method but thought the gnocchi didn’t look as pretty and was much more time consuming.
  7. Set gnocchi aside until nearly ready to serve. You can also freeze gnocchi and store until ready to use. This recipe makes about twice as much gnocchi as needed for the duck, so I froze the rest. Frozen gnocchi can be added directly to boiling water without thawing, but add 1-2 minutes to the cook time.
  8. Boil gnocchi is salted water about 2-4 minutes, until they float to the top.

Spicy braised duck

serves                  2-3
difficulty             easy
cook time           3½ – 4 hours

This recipe is much better with duck leg than duck breast, since the meat with break down better. This recipe uses more tomato than a typical Peruvian recipe such as pato al aji. This is because I wanted to make the stew more like a sauce and to link the Peruvian and Italian flavors in the duck just like I did in the gnocchi.

Ingredients
Marinade

2 tbsp aji amarillo paste
1 tbsp aji mirasol paste
2 tsp aji panca paste
½ tsp salt
½ cup dark beer
2 duck quarters
2 sprigs cilantro
small handful basil leaves

FOR SERVING

1 tbsp olive oil

½ medium red onion, diced into very small pieces
2 cups chicken broth
4 cloves garlic
3 tbsp tomato paste
2 sprigs cilantro
small handful basil leaves, julienned (cut into thin strips)

  1. Combine the spice pastes and salt in a small mixing bowl. Add the beer and incorporate. Pour into a large bag (I use gallon sized zip-locs) and then add the duck. Drop in the cilantro and basil. Close bag and remove excess air to ensure the marinade is in contact with as much of the duck as possible. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1½ hours, up to 12 hours (overnight).
  2. Saute the onion in the olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat until the onions are very tender and starting to turn golden (do not brown). Pour the liquid from the marinade into the pot and stir in the tomato paste. Salt to taste (I used about ½ tsp). Add the chicken broth, garlic, and duck to the pot, ensuring the duck is mostly covered with liquid. If necessary, add more broth until there is enough liquid. Add the other 2 cilantro springs and another small handful of julienned basil.
  3. Bring liquid to a simmer then reduce heat to low. Cover with a lid and cook over low heat for 1½ to 2 hours, until the duck is fork tender (you could easily tear away a piece of the meat with your hands).
  4. Just before serving, boil the gnocchi in salted water until the float to the top. Strain gnocchi and add to the sauce.
  5. Serve gnocchi and sauce in a shallow bowl, adding a duck leg on top. Garnish with additional basil and cilantro to taste. I like a healthy serving of fresh herbs.

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