Why is it called a “puff”? If you will look closely at the deep-fried taro balls in the photos, the surface of the taro balls is not smooth. Rather, there is a fine lace-like pattern all over. That’s because the mashed taro puffs during frying. If you prefer a more pronounced lace-like pattern, make the taro mixture less stiff by adding more water and shortening.
How difficult is it to cook taro puffs at home? Not difficult, really, because there’s no complex cooking procedure involved. It’s just boiling, mashing, stir frying, filling and deep frying. But because the taro and meat filling have to be prepped separately before they are formed into balls and deep-fried, it is rather labor-intensive. Make them when you’re not in a hurry and you have the kitchen to yourself so there are no interruptions.
Start by peeling fresh taro, cutting them into pieces and boiling them until tender. How tender? A fork or knife inserted at the thickest part of the largest piece should go through easily and without resistance. You mash the boiled taro pretty much the same way you’d mash potatoes.
Knead the mashed taro to make it pliable. When it can be gathered into a ball, drop it into a bowl, cover the ball with a kitchen towel and leave it to rest. Resting makes the taro easier to work with later when you add the filling.
The filling consists of ground pork, peas, chili, salt, pepper, sugar and sesame oil. But before you cook the meat, mix it with water and starch. Those two ingredients will turn into a light and sticky sauce during cooking. You want that sauce, no matter how meagre, because that’s what makes the filling so moist. So, just stir fry the ground pork with the rest of the ingredients adding the sesame oil at the end. Cool the filling.
Take your rested taro dough, pinch off a portion, flatten, spoon in the filling and gather the edges to seal. Repeat until all the filling has been used or until you run out of taro dough.
Sprinkle the taro balls with cornstarch then deep fry. Do this in batches so that the balls can swim in the oil comfortably. This is the stage where the taro balls become taro puffs. As the taro balls come in contact with the hot oil, the surface puffs as it turns crisp. Serve your taro puffs as soon as they are cooked. That’s when they are at their best.
Taro puffs (wu gok)
- 500 grams taro - peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons shortening - lard is traditional but I used Crisco
- 1 tablespoon corn starch - dispersed in 2 tablespoons of warm water (plus more for dusting)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- pinch baking soda
- drizzle sesame seed oil
- 2 cups cooking oil - for deep frying
- Place the peeled taro in a pan, add enough water to cover, bring to the boil, cover and simmer until very tender.
- Mash the boiled taro. Add the shortening, starch solution, sugar, salt, pepper, sesame seed oil and baking soda to mashed taro and mix well.
- Transfer the taro to a flat work surface and knead until pliable, about five to seven minutes.
- Place the kneaded taro in a bowl, cover with a damp towel to prevent it from drying, and let rest while you make the filling.
- To the ground pork, add one tablespoon of corn starch and one tablespoon of water. Mix well.
- Heat two tablespoons of cooking oil in a work, add the pork and cook, stirring, until it starts to brown. Season with salt, pepper and about one teaspoon. of sugar.
- Add the peas and chopped chili, continue cooking for another minute, pour in the sesame seed oil then turn off the heat.
- Transfer the pork and peas mixture to a shallow bowl to allow to cool a bit.
- Place about two tablespoons of the taro mixture on the palm of your hand. Flatten and spread into a circle. Curve your hand to create a “bowl”.
- Spoon one tablespoon of the pork filling at the center of the taro mixture.
- Gather the edges of the taro mixture and close to seal the pork filling.
- Repeat until all the taro mixture has been used up.
- Sprinkle the taro balls with corn starch then start heating the cooking oil for deep frying.
- Fry the taro balls over high heat until nicely browned.
- Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.