Project Gastronome, Day 7: Huitlacoche


Since posting yesterday's entry, I've heard tons of feedback about the legendary durian.  Just when I was ready never to think of it again, somebody told me that there is such a thing as durian ice cream, which I now pretty much have to track down and try.  The taste of it just would not leave my mouth.  Even the muffin I had for breakfast this morning tasted like durian.

Living in Texas, I thought that today's food would be pretty easy to find, since it comes from Mexico and our local stores do a pretty good job about keeping Mexican products on the shelves.  Still, I searched three different supermarkets without success.  Finally, Courtney said, "Why don't you try that carniceria out on the Clovis Highway?"  Success!  Employees at the other stores had looked at me like I was crazy when I described what I was looking for, but the kind people at La Michoacana Meat Market were able to walk me right to it.

Tonight's food: Huitlacoche (aka corn smut, corn mushrooms, Mexican truffles)

The Wikipedia link above gives a little more information on what this is, but the short version is that huitlacoche (sometimes spelled Cuitlacoche) is a fungal disease which invades corn crops, causing the kernels to become blackened, swollen, and filled with disease.  If you are thinking that this is not the first time you've read "blackened, swollen, and filled with disease" on my blog, you're right.  I also used those words when describing the staph infection on my hand after I was bitten by a spider.  But more on that in a minute.  Oh, yeah - just wait and see where I go with it.

Another fun bit of trivia from the Wikipedia article is that although there is disagreement about the etymology of the latter half of the word, there is general agreement that the first half of the word ("cuitla") comes from a Mesoamerican word meaning "excrement."  Yay!

There's one question that I can't shake from my mind.  Roy, you read this blog, and you're a narcotics officer.  Isn't the description of huitlacoche more or less the exact same thing as naturally-occurring (not lab-synthesized) LSD?  A fungal infection (ergot) growing on an otherwise useful crop (wheat)?  I just imagine some poor Mexican farmer thinking that his crop is ruined, but at least he's going to get really high, only to find out that all he's got is funny-tasting corn.

Anyway, we had some leftover chicken from dinner last week, so we made some quesadillas for tonight's dinner.  The serving suggestion on the can seemed to show that putting huitlacoche inside a tortilla-based food was the best way to go.

I opened the can and emptied it into a bowl.  It looked like road tar with corn stuck in it, but it didn't smell bad.  It smelled like, well... like corn.  It had kind of a funky, earthy undertone to it, but it wasn't offensive.
I put some into my quesadilla as it cooked, and decided that I'd also try some straight from the bowl.  I steeled myself to take a bite, and popped it in.  To my surprise, it really is not anywhere near as bad as it looks.  The main thing I tasted was just sweet corn, albeit with a strong musk.

Step one of the tasting accomplished, I moved on to the quesadilla.  Pretty good!  The other flavors in the meal blended with and masked the huitlacoche pretty well.  I was actually enjoying it.  But then...

Oh God.  Let me get back to something I mentioned earlier.  That thing that happened to my hand, the thing I linked to above?  I never told you about the treatment for it.  At first, they thought they may have to cut the infection out, but then they determined that it could be treated with a strong course of antibiotics and frequent hot compresses, to draw the infection out.  One night, several days into this, I had just removed a compress from my hand after about 15 minutes, and saw that the thing on my hand had CHANGED.  Its entire surface was one giant head, tight, sickly colored, and throbbing.  I held it to the light to see it better, and placed the fingers of my other hand around it, so as to steady it and get a better look.  Without even applying pressure, the thing on my hand violently erupted into a geyser of escaping infection.  The one detail I will spare you is just how much came out.  It was a LOT.

Prepare yourself, if you eat huitlacoche, for this experience to happen IN YOUR MOUTH.  Not all of the kernels are equally swollen and infected, but eventually, you will get some that forcefully explode into jets of fungal infection between your teeth.

Here's the video of the taste test, which (probably for the best) does not include the scene I just described.


Andrea G. said...

Your kids have the same reaction I do:
Yeah, that's not going in my mouth.
I've seen this in my local Walmart in the "Hispanic" food aisle (hate that phrase) and thought: man, my ancestors must have had hard times back in the days if this became a staple!

Jenn said...

Yet again, the Dutchman is more Mexican than me...I should probably just turn in my Mexican card ;)

Will Meekin said...

i have a divot in my calf from when that brown recluse bit me in high school (i was in high school, not him). it swelled up to the size of my thigh. and these days i show it off at parties. next time someone sticks their finger in it, i'm going to feign agony and shout "huitlacoche! make it stop."

Danny said...

I actually really love the idea of "huitlacoche" as an all-purpose swear word. It's almost as good as, if not better than, "Oh Kelly Clarkson!"

Anonymous said...

Danny, the corn smut you just ate can also be found in Texas in any corn field. You can find it if you walk around long enough. It is worse in corn that gets hailed on. It starts off light green and doesn't look gross at all. I have eaten it at this stage just to see what it was all about. Tastes like corn. I wouldn't touch it after it matures and produces spores. We used to throw it at each other for fun. Nothing like a good old fashion smut fight. I even got Jessica in on it a few times. She has pretty good aim with a giant chunk of smut. Even from the back of a moving four wheeler, she has hit someone square in the chest.

Put us in the pot for a spot on the final day and maybe we can have our own smut fight with the leftovers. John

Danny said...

This is where knowing guys who work in ag comes in handy. Do you have to do anything to control it once it appears in your field? I mean, is it highly contagious to the plants around it, or will a little bit here and there not hurt things much?

I like to imagine that if you threw it at somebody, the sound it would make when it hit them is "SPLORT."

Anonymous said...

Actually, the sound it makes is, "Damnit! That's disgusting." Or that's what I heard when I hit John's coworker with it. He's kind of whiny, and I got to hear about how I ruined his shirt and got it in his ear. Needless to say, I thought it was hilarious. --jess (and now here's John for the ag report)

No its not really contagious. There is nothing you can do about it. It is more of a secondary infection from a previous wound like from a hail storm. Most of the time it isn't a problem. If you see it is forming throughout a field a farmer might decide to cut it early for ensalage to feed to cattle.
Food grade corn is different. Quality standards are much higher and smaller amounts can cause the crop to be rejected. Either way it turns into cow food if there is to much. You can loose money on it but there are much worse fungus.
The sound of it hitting anything is alot like mudd. SPLORT could be a very good adjective to describe it. About the guy jessica mentioned above. She did hit him square in the chest from the back of a 4 wheeler doing at least 20 and he was coming head on from the other direction. The smut she chucked was an entire ear of corn and it was about the size of a football. It exploded on contact. An epic shot in my book. Most people would whine a little. john

Anonymous said...

Will - simply genius.

Ali said...

jessica and john's running commentary brings me joy.

1) you said corn smut.
2) didn't i ask you to never repeat the words "blackened, swollen, and filled with disease"? i feel like you need to listen to your readership.*
3) i would like to add "violently erupted" and "forcefully explode into jets of fungal infection" to that list.*

*i concede defeat if you need these phrases for shock value in the future. although, i refuse to condone it.

Danny said...

I feel like the good news is now that I've experienced a staph infection and huitlacoche, there probably won't be too many other circumstances in my life where I'll need to use that list of words. I'll try to give you a heads up if they ever come up again.

Bill Tieleman said...

Thanks Danny - first tried huitlacoche in Cabo San Lucas in January at the excellent Hacienda el Coyote - fantastic stuff! So tonight we are trying it ourselves stuffed in free range chicken breasts. Only question is what wine matches it? Cheers - the Wine Barbarian

Danny said...

I can't help wondering what it would taste like professionally prepared, instead of just dumped out of a can and cooked into a homemade quesadilla. That's an interesting question. The huitlacoche itself has a pretty strong, pungent flavor, so you'd need something bold to combine well with it. Thanks for your note!

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