Huitlacoche is a fungus of corn; it is a smut. It also goes by the name corn truffle. It’s spores infect corn and turn the little yellow kernels into large, swolled, grey-black, gnarly looking galls. I had heard about it a few times but never seen it in a grocery store, or on a restaurant menu where I live. So I was really excited to see it on a menu when I was on a trip to Mexico in January and I ordered a dish of pasta with corn smut, chilis, tequila and parmesan and it was fantastic.
I came home from the trip determined to try to recreate it. I hunted around online and found some canned huitlacoche on Amazon, but it was a bit expensive to ship. I kind of got distracted and gave up my hunt for a little bit. Then, this past week I went to visit some relatives who grow lots of corn and who actually had loads of huitlacoche. I was really excited, and they thought I was totally nuts. I talked my uncle out of burning it, and took it home with me. I discarded a bit of it that hard gone from cool-gnarly to gross-gnarly on the way home and I had a wee little haul of just over a cup of goofy looking little grey and black mushrooms.
It’s a little odd to think about eating a parasite, actually a disease of another food. Infections, parasites, diseases: these are not ideas typically associated with deliciousness, healthiness, or even just food. I read a great article by the great Carl Zimmer on parasite eating that really puts the oddness of huitlacoche into perspective in the ranks of parasitic snacks. In that context huitlacoche comes out looking fairly tame, at least compared to some of the parasites people around the world are keen to munch. It’s a bit odd looking, a sooty, knobbly little swelling on corn, but it’s very tasty - earthy and mushroomy and savoury.
If you are picking fresh corn smut, look for blue-grey fungus that is tender-firm to a gentle squeeze. Smut that is still green is too young and bitter, and avoid any over-ripe fungus that is powdery inside or starting to go oozy (Appetizing, I know!)
In this recipe, I cooked the smut and the sauce separately, to keep the whole dish from turning grey. You can cook the garlic and smut together if you don’t want to wash an extra pan.
huitlacoche, tequila and chili spaghetti:
- ⅓ cup huitlacoche, fresh, frozen or canned. Chop roughly if pieces are large.
- 1 pound dry long pasta, spaghetti or linguine or whatever you like
- 2 tbs butter
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 2 tsp chili flakes (this will be medium spicy, add chilis to your taste)
- 1 bulb garlic, peeled and smashed
- ½ cup tequila
- ⅔ cup heavy cream
- ½ cup shredded parmesan
- ½ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
- Salt and pepper
In a large frying pan on medium heat, fry garlic and chilis in the butter & oil, reserving a little bit of fat to cook huitlacoche. In a smaller pan, cook huitlacoche in the reserved fat on medium heat.
While you are making the sauce, cook pasta in generously salted water until just tender.
When huitlacoche softens, reduce heat to low. Once garlic begins to colour, add tequila to pan, and swirl to deglaze. Add cream and cook until the sauce thickens slightly. Toss the drained noodles into the sauce and serve topped with corn smut, parsley, parmesan and salt & pepper.