Cooking Like A Mexican

Huitlacoche, Mexican caviar.
BY: ALE BORBOLLA

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Huitlacoche is one of the most ancient ingredients in Mexican cooking, but there is a hard debate in the scientific and culinary community about it. Some people believe in the romantic story and legends, some others believe Huitlacoche was a loss.

The word huitlacoche comes from the Nahuatl language; “cuítlatl”, that means excrement and “cochi,” that means sleeping or dreaming. Sleeping God’s poop would be the correct translation. Sounds yummy, right? Well, it was considered a blessing for the crop when the Gods poop on them, it meant that the season was going to be very productive. Now the scientific, historic debate says that huitlacoche was actually a loss of the corn crops, as corn was sacred and huitlacoche does look quite ugly as compared to regular corn cobs. I will not take sides on this debate, but I will tell you guys, I am always for legends, myths and fantastic stories. You can also call it Aztec Caviar, Mexican truffle.

Huitlacoche is quite the superfood actually, that term is so popular now, but the Mexican caviar really is amazing. First, the less obvious properties; this fungus is used for skin treatments, such as burns and rashes. It can also be applied as a face mask for its exfoliating and purifying qualities. And also, there are women who use it as eyelash mascara in communities in Tlaxcala and Veracruz. Now for the benefits of eating it; huitlacoche is very rich in fiber, low fat, contains Omega 3 and 6, which lowers cholesterol. It is considered a great aid in the prevention and treatment of diabetes because it regulates glucose levels in the blood. It also helps collagen production and is a great antioxidant.

How it grows is quite interesting as well. During the rainy season, when the corn cob is just starting to form and the “pod” is just a small leafy baby corn full of hairs, sometimes it is not well developed. “prehispanic corn” is a little deformed, it sometimes pops out if the leaves, becoming exposed to humidity and huitlacoche starts to form.  Nowadays to have huitlacoche all year round, farmers dry and grind huitlacoche to make a powder. Then, they cut slits into the corn “pod” before the actual cob is formed and sprinkle some of the powder in the slit, along with some water.

Huitlacoche is essentially sick corn, and it looks as if a corn kernel turned into a zombie. It’s mostly blue or black with white parts and fuzzy. It is as ugly as it is delicious. The texture is delicate, the flavor sophisticated and subtle, but earthy. It can now be found canned, jarred, and fresh in supermarkets and local markets for a couple of dollars. When cooked, huitlacoche darkens and becomes thick and velvety but holds its texture. Some chefs have compared it to squid ink, others to black truffle.

Huitlacoche sopes:

For the salsa:

    4 tomatoes

    3 chiles de árbol

    2 spoon fulls of olive oil

    1 small onion

    4 cloves of garlic

    Cilantro (as necessary)

    ½ teaspoon of black ground pepper

    1 teaspoon of salt

For the sope masa:

    1 cup of corn flour (maseca)

    ¾ warm water

    1 tablespoon of salt

For the huitlacoche topping:

    ¼ cup of vegetable oil (not olive oil, as it may overpower the taste of huitlacoche)

    2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

    1 small onion

    1 lb of huitlacoche

    1 serrano pepper (more or less, depending on your tolerance of heat)

To garnish

    Sour cream

    Cotija cheese (or any fresh, crumbly cheese)

To make the salsa:

    •    Place the tomatoes, onion and garlic on a comal and char the skins. This can also be made in an oven.

    •    Place the oil in a pan and lightly fry the arbol chiles.

    •    Remove the chiles, and process roughly in a blender with the charred tomatoes, onion and garlic. Add cilantro, and season with salt and pepper.

    •    Cool in the fridge.

To make the sopes and huitlacoche topping:

    •    Mix the cornflour or maseca, the water and the salt until you can make small balls, squish them and the rims don’t crack more than a milimiter. Make little patties, about 5 cm in diameter and half a centimeter thick. Lightly fry in oil on both sides. (if the oil is hot enough, the sopes won’t absorb much oil and will be perfectly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.)

    •    To make the filling, heat a pan with a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil. Add the garlic, finely chopped onion, finely chopped serrano pepper (or coarsely chopped if someone would like to remove it for less heat). Cook for five minutes, stirring constantly, and add the huitlacoche. Cook for another five to ten minutes, and season with salt.

To serve:

    •    Grab a patty and top with the huitlacoche.

    •    You can previously assemble the sopes adding sour cream and the crumbled cheese or you can place them on the table along with the salsa so that everyone can assemble their own sope.

Hope you like it and try it! You can email me at ale.borbolla@gringogazette.com and I’ll answer your questions, and take into consideration any particular Mexican craving!