Greetings from sunny Cabo! It never ceases to amaze me how we’ve come into the civilized world. Every day I attempt to explain to those who have only recently arrived how for years we drove two grueling hours to La Paz to buy the most basic items, such as toilet paper! More outlandish items like round toothpicks and frozen turkeys were hiked down Baja by sympathetic friends living in more civilized areas.
These days things are very different. Having a full-on Plaza Sendero mall five minutes from my house is still a source of wonder to me, and I walk through with my mouth hanging open even now, two years after its near magical appearance. Our new reality is that we have access to virtually everything, including all the ingredients to make beautiful traditional Mexican dishes which were only a dream as little as five years ago.
My small local market carried fresh huitlacoche (also spelled cuitlacoche) all summer last year, and it looks like it’s going to happen again. The picture above pretty much says it all–a normal ear of corn is infected with a fungus that blows each kernel into a huge, strange and wonderful mushroom! The outside is a gray blue, the inside black.
If you’ve never seen huitlacoche, its Japanese sci-fi movie appearance can make you want to run in the other direction, but if you love mushrooms… and if you just happen to love corn too… maybe you should stick around.
The ancient Aztecs were addicted to this earthy gourmet treat, so much so that they intentionally infected corn plants by cutting into them near the soil level to allow water borne spores to enter. Mexico is still crazy for cuitlacoche, and like any good mushroom the canned variety are a disappointing substitute for the real deal. If you are lucky enough to find it fresh, treat it like any other fresh mushroom. Gently tease the kernels from the cob and sautee them in sweet butter with finely chopped onion and garlic, and use them anywhere you would any other fine fungus. They will turn soft, sweet and black, and may be folded into a crepe bathed in a roasted poblano cream sauce for a traditional Mexican classic dish that is truly alta cocina. It may be cooked up with chorizo, potato, onion, garlic and serrano chile and used to stuff hot tortillas, roasted poblano chiles etc., or simply folded into an omelette.
I plan to frequent my local market this summer on the hunt for cuitlacoche. Hard core foodies who join me in my kitchen are in for a real treat!
A couple of Mexican classics