Friday, July 26, 2013

Culinary Smut

Earlier this week, Mitsy and I were out in the garden checking the status of our vegetables, picking some zucchini and cucumbers and just enjoying our garden area in general. Mitsy went down to see how close we were to start harvesting corn, when she saw a couple of the cobs that had some sort of blight on them. She called me over to investigate and in walking over I was greeted with this monstrosity.
This was the first crop of corn I have ever grown myself and I had never seen anything like this. Pulling out my trusty phone, I quickly Googled "blue mold on corn". I quickly had multiple images and articles come back about blue mold on a corn crop and so I began reading to see what I needed to do to protect the rest of my crop from being overcome with this blight.
Imagine my surprise when I found out this stuff was actually edible! While it can spread and infect a whole crop of corn, it can also be a delightful culinary experience. While generally in America, this stuff is referred to a "Corn Smut" (not a very appealing description), it has quite a history with our South American neighbors. In Mexico, it is commonly known as huitlacoche or cuitlacoche (pronounced QUEET-la-coh-chay).  It is commonly sold in markets and can fetch upwards to $3 a pound! It is most often used in soups and quesadillas, although searching more on the web, I found a host of recipes for it, including ice cream!
I , however, was still not convinced. I posted the picture above on my Facebook page and soon had several comments from friends recommending it as good eats. So I researched some more. The fungus usually occurs when rain/moisture get down into the growing corn cob and the kernels begin to rot. Still doesn't sound very appetizing, but the amazing thing is the transformation that occurs, in not only the way it looks, but the nutrient value skyrockets. Corn is pretty much devoid of lysine, one of those "essential amino acids" that the body requires but can't manufacture. We need it to fight infections and strengthen bones. However huitlacoche is loaded with it! It also has more beta-glucens than oatmeal.
So after reading all this, I decided to pull the four "infected ears" and try making a dish with it. After pulling the ears, I plucked off all the blue knobby kernels.

It looks almost like some kind of blue-gray deformed popcorn at this point. I had also picked a couple of jalapeno's, some cilantro and some tomatoes out of garden to go with my smut creation. In a large pan I sautéed the jalapeno's (seeds removed, you can add more if you like it spicier), 2 cloves of garlic and about a quarter of a sweet onion. Once that was cooked down, I rough chopped the huitlacoche and tossed it in. The larger fungus have black spores in them that look kind of like the underside of a Portobello mushroom. These are edible as well, although from what I understand the younger fungus has better/more acute flavors. Either way, the fungus kind of turns black and tarry looking anyway when its cooked. After sautéing on medium-high heat for a few minutes I cut the heat and added it to a warmed tortilla that had a bunch of slightly melted Mexican four-cheese mix on it. Then I cut up a fresh garden tomato and chopped up some of the cilantro and added this to my creation as well. 

I then wrapped up the whole concoction and topped with some salsa verde, a little taco sauce and a what was left of the fresh cilantro. It ended up looking like the picture below.

It was completely delicious! The huitlacoche has a flavor that is both earthy and sweet. The only way to describe it is a fresh corn flavored mushroom flavor. It mixed well with the other ingredients and my only regret is that I did not have more in my garden to add. I would also like to try the other recipes I found online. I highly recommend you try this odd looking yet tasty smut! I believe you can buy canned versions of huitlacoche online (I think amazon sells it) or probably at a local latin food store. I am only guessing, but I would imagine that fresh would be much better than canned. While I don't want my whole corn crop to turn into corn smut, I wouldn't having more of this in the future growing in my garden.