Huitlacoche

Mexican truffles, corn mushrooms, huitlacoche, corn smut ....which one of these would you want to eat? I've ordered huitlacoche in some of the nicer Mexican restaurants in Chicago, but I've never seen it in Ann Arbor.  Last Wednesday at the market I heard the Tantré folks saying they had some "Mexican truffles" and was excited to see huitlacoche on sale for the first time. As one of those plush Ann Arbor people, I would certainly never eat corn smut, but bring on the Mexican truffles!  


The name "Mexican truffles" was originally given at a James Beard Foundation huitlacoche dinner, says Wikipedia, as an attempt to get more Americans to consider it something edible instead of something regrettable.  And the Wiki-guru goes on to say that in Mexico "It is considered a delicacy, even being preserved and sold for a higher price than corn. For culinary use, the galls are harvested while still immature — fully mature galls are dry and almost entirely spore-filled. The immature galls, gathered two to three weeks after an ear of corn is infected, still retain moisture and, when cooked, have a flavor described as mushroom-like, sweet, savory, woody, and earthy. Flavor compounds includesotolon and vanillin, as well as the sugar glucose."


Richard at Tantré says when life gives you huitlacoche, make Mexican truffles. And if the fungus that causes this Mexican delicacy is not taking over his corn plants, he said that it took blackbirds about 15 minutes to decimate the corn crop last year. So he's been out in the corn fields with a shotgun in one hand to discourage the blackbirds, while harvesting huitlacoche with the other. 


Anyone who knows me or who has read this blog more than 1 time knows how highly I think of Tantré Farm, so I asked Richard how he likes to make huitlacoche. He said, as simply as possible - chop it up and fry it in butter.  Tender and springy, I was surprised how clean and fresh this huitlacoche was. Don't tell my mom, but I didn't even bother to wash it. 


I was curious what Epicurious would have to say on the subject of huitlacoche and lo and behold, it's in there.  I started cooking up my prize with with this idea for Mini-tortillas with Corn Mushrooms, in mind.   


What I learned from making this was - it takes only a little longer to make incredible corn tortillas than it does to make pancakes.  And, I really like huitlacoche, whatever you call it.  I did as suggested and sauteed a bit of onion and garlic in butter and then added the chopped up corn mushrooms.  Their flavor is very delicate - savory, nutty, and a tiny edge of pleasant bitterness. I added a little bit of salty cheese and some tiny shreds of green onion with a little hot sauce. 


Next time you see huitlacoche, try giving it a whirl. Just tell your family they're eating Mexican truffles.  We'll be having our Mexican truffles next in an omelet. 



Mini-tortillas (aka chalupas) with Corn Mushrooms (from Epicurious.com)

For tortillas:

1 cup corn tortilla flour (masa harina; 4 1/2 oz)
3/4 cup warm water

For topping:
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh serrano chile with seeds, or to taste
1 cup finely chopped white onion, divided
4 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil, divided (I used 2 T. butter)
2 cups fresh or thawed huitlacoche (1/2 pound), coarsely chopped, or 2 (7 1/2-oz) cans
About 1/2 cup salsa verde cruda 
1 cup crumbled queso fresco or ricotta salata


Make tortillas:
Combine tortilla flour and water in a large bowl and knead with your hands until a uniform dough forms, about 1 minute. Pinch off enough dough to form a scant 3/4-inch ball. (Dough should be moist but not sticky when formed into a ball. If necessary, knead a little more tortilla flour or water into dough.) Form remaining dough into 3/4-inch balls, transferring to a plate, and cover with plastic wrap. 

Very lightly oil comal (or pizza pan), then heat over medium-high heat until hot, about 2 minutes. 

Press 1 ball of dough between plastic squares in tortilla press to form a 3-inch tortilla (about 1/16 inch thick). Peel off 1 plastic square, then, holding tortilla in your palm, carefully peel off other square and gently transfer tortilla to comal. 

Cook until edges just loosen from comal and small brown spots appear on underside, 30 to 45 seconds. Turn over and cook, pressing flat with a metal spatula if necessary, until brown spots appear on underside, about 45 seconds. Turn over again and cook, pressing down with spatula, until tortilla inflates slightly (this may not always happen), 10 to 15 seconds. Enclose tortilla in folded cloth to keep warm and moist.

Make more tortillas, stacking them in cloth. (Once you get a rhythm going, cook more than 1 tortilla at a time.)

Make topping:
Cook garlic, chile, and 1/2 cup onion (reserve remainder for Garnish) in 2 tablespoons lard in a 10-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring, until onion is softened, about 3 minutes. Add huitlacoche and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until heated through, 3 to 5 minutes.

Assemble chalupas in batches just before serving:
Warm remaining 2 tablespoons lard (if using) to liquefy. Heat comal (or pizza pan) over medium heat until hot, then heat 8 mini tortillas, brushing tops lightly with some of lard (about 3/4 teaspoon each). While heating tortillas (1 to 2 minutes total), top each with about 1/2 teaspoon salsa, a sprinkling of reserved raw onion, and a rounded teaspoon huitlacoche mixture. 

Transfer chalupas to a platter, then sprinkle with queso fresco and serve immediately. 

Keep comal warm and repeat procedure when ready to serve next batch of chalupas.

Cooks' notes:
Tortillas can be made 4 hours ahead and chilled, stacked and wrapped in plastic wrap, or frozen up to 1 week (thaw before reheating in comal).
Huitlacoche topping can be made 4 hours ahead and chilled, covered. Reheat gently before assembling chalupas.





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