Vigoron. Found on street corners and kitchens throughout Central America, primarily El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. While technically a salad, it resembles one only in the vaguest way. While consisting of only three components, it requires all three to avoid it being a confusing or outright unenjoyable mess.
We first saw this interesting mixture for the first time on the streets of Santa Ana, El Salvador. Though we were curious, the long, chaotic lines surrounding the food carts steered us away from trying. One muggy afternoon under the hot afternoon sun in Granada, we stumbled upon this treat once more. This time, as the number of carts selling it kept the crowds at bay, we found our chance.
Inside of a large banana leaf, sat a small mound of mashed yuca topped with a sour-sweet cabbage slaw and dotted in fried bits of pork. The textures melded perfectly, crispy bits of fried pork skin against the tender meat. The rich yucca, soft enough to be palatable yet dense, cut through perfectly by the acid in the slaw. The sugar rounding everything together at the end.
It’s unique in the sense that it not only acts as hearty meal but it’s oddly light and refreshing. Perfect for those hot summer days.
Yuca is a starchy root vegetable native to Central America, but can be found as far North as Southern Alberta, Canada. If you aren’t able to find it in your area, you can substitute sweet potato or another type of starchy root vegetable.
- 1 Yuca root
- 1/2 pound Pork Belly, Skin on Skinless will work, but the crispy skin is part of what makes this so enjoyable!
- 1/2 cup Soy Sauce
- 1/4 cup Sugar
- 1/4 cup Water
- 2 cloves Garlic minced
- 2 cloves Garlic thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp Baking Soda
- 1 recipe Curtido (see notes)
- Lay the the pork belly skin side down and cut into roughly 3/4 inch pieces. The length of each piece will depend on the thickness of the belly. The important part is that each piece has a square of skin on the end.
- Mix together soy sauce, sugar, water and minced garlic in a bowl.
- Mix the pork belly pieces with the marinade, cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Remove the pork from marinade and pat dry. Rub baking soda on the skin of each piece and set aside for 10 minutes. This step can be avoided, but leads to a much crispier skin when fried.
- Peel yuca with a sharp knife and discard. Yuca skin contains natural toxins, so be sure to peel well.
- Cut into chunks and add to a pot of salted water. Bring to boil and cook for roughly 30 minutes until fork-tender. Overcooking will cause the yuca to become gummy.
- Strain yuca, cool in ice bath and refrigerate until ready to use.
- After sitting, place the pork pieces in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add just enough water to cover.
- Turn heat to medium-high and bring the water to a slow simmer. Turn down to medium-low and let the water slowly evaporate while rendering the fat from the meat.
- Be sure to use a splatter screen of some sort. As the last of the water evaporates from the hot oil, it may pop and splatter quite a bit.
- Once the water has evaporated, if the pork isn’t completely submerged by the rendered fat, add lard or oil to cover and continue cooking for another 15-20 minute.
- Remove pork from oil and discard all but a small bit of oil.
- Heat reserved oil on medium-high heat and return the pork and sliced garlic to the pan, stirring constantly.
- Once the garlic begins to brown and the pork is nice and crisp, turn off heat and immediately remove the meat and garlic from the pan and set on paper towel to soak up remaining oil.
- Take the cooled yuca from the fridge and mash roughly with a fork. Being much heartier than potatoes, it won’t mash the same. You’ll want it chunky.
- Divide yuca between plates. Top yuca with roughly 1 cup of curtido. Use a fork for this part, reserve the curtido liquid in the container.
- Sprinkle the pork pieces onto plate evenly, and serve. Use reserved curtido liquid as additional dressing if desired.