IN PRAISE OF HUITLACOCHE

It’s, ahem, a nasty looking, oozing black fungus. And it’s absolutely delicious

One day, not too long ago, I sat outside near the beach in Cancun, Mexico at a resort staring at an omelet that was just prepared for me. I was a bit hungover, last night’s run of mezcal and Negra Modelo had me feeling withered. It was bright and clear and one of those days where the sky is so impossibly blue that it makes you ache. On my plate was the aforementioned omelet, along with papaya, mango and pineapple, standard fare at this or any other hotel in the area. Diving into the omelet I encountered a musky funk and saw a disconcerting black ooze dribble out. I was a little alarmed and asked the staff what this was.

 

“That is huitlacoche, corn mushroom.”

 

I was hooked. What was this magical mushroom?

 

Huitlacoche (weet-la-ko-chee), also called corn smut by U.S. farmers, is a fungus that attacks the ovaries of the corn plant and causes the kernels to swell, and frankly, look pretty awful. Considered a blight, farmers in Mexico, however, prize the infection and can often sell the huitlacoche for more than the corn on the market. Also, according to those folks in lab coats, the reaction of the fungus increases the nutritional value of the corn. The taste of huitlacoche is heavenly — an earthy, smoky, black truffle-like pungent smack in the mouth — and if you can get past the sight of it there’s a strong chance, that you, like me, will be entranced.

 

Needless to say, I became the “huitlacoche guy” at the resort, eating the same omelet every morning for the rest of my trip. Once home in New York, I became obsessed and looked for huitlacoche on the menu at every Mexican restaurant in my neighborhood, often not finding it. The two places that I’ve had it most often have been Hecho en Dumbo, a taco and small plate restaurant in the East Village, New York City, and the eclectic La Esquina in SoHo, in Manhattan. It’s not always on the menu, so if you don’t see it, ask for it. In the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn you can find it at Cholulita Bella Deli.

 

 

Exc’ooze us while we eat***T.Tseng/Flickr***

 

 

You can also get it in can form on Amazon.com, frozen in giant blocks direct from Burns Farm Huitlacoche, or from Mexican product online source MexGrocer.com.

 

The most common use for huitlacoche is in fillings in quesadillas, tamales, empanadas and tacos, just like you would in hongos (mushroom) recipes, esquites (Mexican street corn salad) and soups. I’ve even seen some used it in cheesecake! My favorite, still, is the omelet, simple and pungent, with my bare feet in the sand, drinking a michelada, trying to remember the previous night…

 

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