This post is going to address all aspects of preparing big taro- not to be confused with little taro. I probably haven’t had enough little taro and haven’t given it enough chances, however, big taro has thus far won my heart over. Little taro is slightly slimy/slippery, and has a different and I’d say, more mild taste than taro. If little taro was a waxy potato (like a red potato), big taro would be a russet (half way between starchy and waxy). You know those “taro” (in quotes because 99.9% of the time, they use purple-dyed artificially flavored powder) drinks at boba shops? They mimic / attempt to imitate the big taro taste.
Big taro (as opposed to the hairy little ones) ranks high up on my list of favorite root vegetables- the best thing about it is that it is one of few vegetables that I think is adaptable both as savory (pan-fried then tossed into hot pot, taro cooked with pork, taro pork vermicelli (yu tou mi fen tang) <—want to post a recipe for this- someday!) AND sweet (xi mi lu, among many others) , without tasting too sweet for the savory, nor too savory for the sweet.
My mom used to buy taro in vacuum sealed bags, but when I moved to the other coast for college, I noticed that any supermarket that sold it, sold it whole- the big whonking taro root! Where Mr. ABC Chef and I live now, there are enough Chinese people that there is one supermarket-count em! one, that actually sells big taro. It sells taro both in the vacuum sealed bags, and also whole.
Unless the taro looks dreadfully moldy and dried up, I’ve found that buying a whole taro and cutting it up yourself, is the better way to go. The prep time is probably comparable to preparing a butternut squash, so buy a whole taro and slice and freeze what you don’t need! I know this varies by state/area, but over yonder, the supermarket near me sells whole taro by the pound for $.79/lb, versus the pre-sliced and vacuum-sealed taro for $2.79/lb (!!)
I’ve yet to assume any expertise in taro picking (maybe in 50 years ;)), and sometimes it is slim picking, especially if there are only 6-7 taro to choose from. But! We do the best with what we have. I look for a taro that:
-is heavier for its size (meaning, hasn’t dried out yet)
-is relatively free of moldy, discolored or soft spots
-looks the prettiest
Other than that, it can somewhat be a luck of the draw, seeing as no one has x-ray vision, and that the taro we get in the US is all likely shipped from southeast Asian countries or some far-off land.. Even if you get a dud, I’m sure you’ll get to use at least a good portion of it. In the 8 years since I’ve left home and cooked for myself, I can only remember one time where I couldn’t find any salvageable part o.O
-First, cut the taro in half, crosswise. This will make it much more manageable to work with.
-If you have a great vegetable peeler like this Y peeler I loooove, you could use it to get some of the tough skin off the outside, to remove the speckled white and purple inside meat. Still, the peeler will get some chunks of peel that you have to shake out every so often. Better yet, stand the taro on a cutting board, cut side facing down, and use a knife to cut along the border of the flesh and skin- try to remove as little flesh as possible! You’ll probably have the opportunity to see the pretty occasional tinge of magenta/purple that peeks out when you peel the skin off.
-If you see discolored spots (like pink..) as you peel the taro, use the knife to shave those parts off, until you see a continuous matrix of pretty taro flesh.
-Once the taro half is peeled, still with the cut side facing down, slice into thick slices. Take this opportunity to inspect each slice for abnormalities, and discard.
-Taro can be steamed, pan fried, boiled, mashed (while retaining its fluffiness and creaminess!), deep fried, braised…whatever you want, basically. I hope to get some more taro recipes up on this site as I have more time, so please stay tuned!
-The easiest and simplest way to enjoy taro is to cut it into chunks or slices, steam it, then sprinkle some sugar (or salt) on it, and eat it just like that.
While perhaps elementary, I hope this short little tutorial helps anyone who has questions or fears about cooking/preparing taro!