Corn Smut, Mexico’s fine dining delicacy

All over Mexico, Huitlacoche is savored for its subtle elegance. But, somehow, this culinary gem is ignored in the U.S. where the fungus is given the derogatory name of “corn smut.”

What is corn smut?

Huitlacoche (Image: npr.org Monica Ortiz)

Huitlacoche, also known as corn smut and Mexican truffle, is a corn fungus. Normally, Huitlacoche thrives in a moist environment. So, when there is a lot of rain as the ear ripens, corn smut flourishes.

The Huitlacoche fungus causes the corn kernels to swell and take on a pale blue-grey appearance. The ear of corn expands so much that the husk often bursts under the pressure of the fungus.

In the U.S. most farmers view Huitlacoche as a blight and go to great lengths to prevent it from establishing in their fields. If a farmer finds corn smut has invaded their crop, they will burn it or feed it to livestock.

However, in Mexico, Huitlacoche is viewed in an entirely different light. Here, Huitlacoche is a delicacy and chefs will pay a premium for it, far above the price of regular corn.

Huitlacoche quesadillas (Image: inquirer.com Jose F Moreno)

The fungus is often used to make Huitlacoche tacos or quesadillas. It’s also an ingredient in soups. And, like European truffles, Huitlacoche is terrific when paired with eggs.

The flavor profile is also similar to European truffles and their culinary cousin mushrooms. Huitlacoche has an earthy, some say musky, flavor that is rich in umami. But, the so-called Mexican truffle’s taste is also delicate and stronger flavors can easily overwhelm it.

My search for Huitlacoche in Mexico City

We had hired a driver for the day in Mexico City, a surprisingly affordable arrangement. Karen and I spent the morning in the Colonia del Carmen neighborhood of Coyoacán.

Frida and the Cesarean (unfinished) photo: Brent Petersen

After spending a couple hours in La Casa Azul (the Blue House), artist Frida Kahlo’s home and studio, we walked to the nearby Trotsky Museum. This is where Leon Trotsky lived for several years after being kicked out of Frida’s house. It is also where Trotsky was assassinated, likely under orders of Stalin himself.

As fascinating as the story of Frida (my favorite 20th century North American artist) and her purported paramour Trotsky is, two museums is about my limit before sustenance is required.

Besides, there’s corn smut to be found. And, our driver Alejandro knows a place.

Alejandro led us through the Jardin Centenario, past the Fuente de los Coyotes (Coyote Fountain) to an unassuming restaurant called Ave Maria. Alejandro tells the waiter what I’m looking for, and he nods. I never see the menu.

Photo: Brent Petersen

As we wait for our fungus, a young girl in a frilly pink dress is posing for her quinceañera pictures in the garden. Another young lady who happens to be walking by photo-bombs her, much to the birthday girl’s delight.

When the Huitlacoche arrives, I am not disappointed. Eggs are speckled with the corn smut. The fungus has turned from a blue-grey to black after cooking. Somehow, I remember to offer a bite to my girlfriend and Alejandro, though they both politely decline. I try to eat slowly and savor each bite, but it is a losing battle.

Where to enjoy Huitlacoche in Mexico City

Huitlacoche is often identified with fine dining. Like truffles, Huitlacoche has exploded in popularity. High-end restaurateurs in Mexico City have realized that their customers are willing to pay a premium for the fungus.

Pujol is Mexico City’s haute cuisine destination. Huitlacoche is served in season in a variety of ways. Another fine dining spot is Lorea . They often have Huitlacoche on their tasting menu. Look for it seasonally between June and September.

But, one of the best ways to experience corn fungus is from a street food vendor at Mercado de comida de Coyoacán. The market is in the lovely Coyoacán neighborhood, near the Centenario Garden and a short walk from La Casa Azul (Frida Kahlo Museum). In season, vendors serve delicious Huitlacoche quesadillas with onions, peppers, and garlic.

Huitlacoche in the U.S.

Huitlacoche is still a bit of a rarity at American restaurants. Occasionally, it can be found fresh at Mexican grocery stores. But, for the most part, we’re limited to getting our corn smut in the less-desirable canned or frozen form.

Renowned chef Rick Bayless often has Huitlacoche on the menu at his restaurants in Chicago.

In Los Angeles, there’s a food truck called Huitlacoche. Of course, they’ve got Mexican truffle on the menu. Better yet, Rocio’s Mexican Kitchen’s Mole of the Gods is a decadent treat featuring Huitlacoche.

San Antonio has plenty of Mexican cuisine, though a lot of it is of the Tex-Mex variety. Acenar is right on the touristy riverwalk. They have crepas de Huitlacoche on offer.

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Author: dedadmin