October 31, 2011
Denise Simmons, Corporate Chef
While working at an account a few days ago, an employee, Mario, showed me something I'd heard about, but never actually seen-huitlacoche (pronounced wee-tlah-KOH-cheh). It's a fungus that grows naturally on corn. Although American farmers view the fungus as a disease (it's known as 'corn smut') and take steps to prevent it from occuring, Mexicans view the fungus as a delicacy and enjoy it prepared in various dishes, or as a filling for tacos or tamales. I think of it as the mexican version of truffles.
Huitlacoche is pretty funky looking, and I wasn't brave enough to try it raw. Mario said his favorite way to serve it is in a cream sauce. Anyone seen or tried it before? How was it prepared? Did you like it?
Here is more information about it, courtesy of Gourmet Leuth (see article below)
Huitlacoche History - Blight Or Delicacy?
The Aztec named this dark growth found on corn huitlacoche which translates (rather bluntly and literally) to "ravens excrement". Although the name provided is not overly appetizing the Aztec's fashioned the fungus into dishes of crepes, soups, and tamales.
American farmers call it "smut" and "devil's corn" and consider it a disease to be irradiated. The peoples of Mexico as well as the American Hopi Indians consider the fungus a delightful delicacy.
According to Betty Fussell in her book The Story of Corn, the Hopi call the corn fungus nanha and collect when it is young and tender, par boil it for 10 minutes then sautéd in butter until crisp.
The Zuni Indians call the corn fungus corn-soot and say it symbolizes the "generation of life".
The French call it goitre du mais. It is unclear if it is eaten in France.
Today in Mexico the product is actually cultivated each season providing an ample supply to be eaten fresh, then frozen and canned. While the product is not easy to find in the U.S. most typically it can be purchased canned.
Another interesting story told by Ms. Fussell is that of a dinner presented by the James Beard House in New York City in 1989. The purpose was to give Americans a tasting of the corn smut but with a new name "Mexican Truffle". The menu was created by Josefina Howard of Rosa Mexicano restaurant and included huitlacoche appetizers, soup, crepes, tortilla torte, and even an huitlacoche ice cream.