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Huitlacoche – Corn Fungus

Huitlacoche or Cuitlacoche (Ustilago maydis) is corn smut, a type of fungus that invades the growing ears of corn, causing the kernels to swell into gray or blue-black masses.  Farmers take vigilant measures against it in the United States, and home gardeners throw away “smutty” ears in disgust.  In Mexico we consider it our truffle!

Fresh huitlacoche is rarely sold retail in the U.S though it can be bought in the American Southwest and at some Mexican-clientele supermarkets for retail purchase but it is available wholesale (see below).  When found growing on corn in most parts of this country, it is completely different from the Mexican product.  The kernels of U.S. sweet corn yield a milder-flavored huitlacoche than Mexican varieties.  I hope that fresh huitlacoche will one day be widely available throughout the U.S.,  as are such products as the kiwi fruit and jicama.  Meanwhile, you have to hunt for it.

The demand for it is high in Mexico and the supply is both seasonal and iffy, fluctuating with the amount of rainfall.  During high season (July through October), the Herdez canning factory buys what it can and processes it into a wonderful product, sold in 8-ounce cans, which I used thankfully when we first opened Zarela in 1987.  However, even the canned variety is expensive and not plentiful, particularly in early summer when the previous year’s supply is exhausted.  My mother had to search constantly for it in supermarkets all over Mexico to keep me supplied in New York City.

But Glen Burns, a smart farmer from Florida, discovered a way of innoculating every single ear of corn with the spore and can now supply restaurants with huitlacoche year round.  He will aslo sell a minimum of 5 pounds to retail customers.

Burns Farm 1345 Bay Lake Loop Groveland, FL 34736 Tel: 352-429-4048 Does not have a website.

Here is one of my favorite easy huitlacoche recipes

(Huitlacoche Soup)

3 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil1
l medium onion sliced in thin half-moons (about l cup)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
3 poblano, Anaheim, or California long green chiles, roasted, peeled, and seeded, diced
l eight-ounce can huitlacoche
2 tablespoons fresh or dried epazote
8 cups (or as needed) Caldo de Pollo (see recipe)
1 cup heavy cream or light cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In large skillet, heat lard or oil over medium-high heat until very hot but not quite smoking. Add onion and garlic and saute, stirring occasionally, until onion is golden and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the diced chiles and cook for another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add huitlacoche and epazote. Reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered for about 5 minutes.

Let cool slightly. In two or more batches, process the mixture to a smooth puree in blender, adding enough chicken stock to facilitate blending. Pour the puree into a large heavy saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring. Add remaining chicken stock a cup or two at a time until it is the consistency of a thin cream soup. Stir in cream, bring to a boil, and simmer another 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

YIELD: About l0 cups.