Not only were the Aztecs fierce and brave warriors, they were also fearless, adventurous eaters. Why? Well, they ate huitlacoche (pronounced ‘weet-lah-koh-tcheh’), a very unique food in Mexican cuisine also known as corn mushroom, corn fungus, corn smut, and Mexican truffle.
Most people have never heard of it. I only recently discovered huitlacoche’s existence and am glad I did because it’s REALLY good and pretty much unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before.
So what IS huitlacoche? Prized by the Aztecs and considered a delicacy in Mexico, it’s a funny-looking food that comes from corn; it is the irregular, enlarged, black kernels resulting from an infection by the fungus Ustilago maydis. “It’s basically a corn fungus; also known sort of as a truffle because of its richness. Some people have the tendency of turning the other way when they see it because it’s dark and looks like fungus,” says Chef Joe Quintana, Rosa Mexicano’s Regional Executive Chef.
Rosa Mexicano, an upscale, modern Mexican restaurant with locations all over the nation, has an annual Mexican Truffle Celebration dedicated to huitlacoche dishes, featuring signature dishes from founding Chef Josephina Howard’s legendary All-Huitlacoche James Beard Dinner from 1989. Rosa Mexicano gets huitlacoche fresh from a farmer in Florida who cultivates it especially for the restaurant.
Huitlacoche, Quintana says, is “very tasty. Has a unique flavor to it…since it grows off the corn, kind of still has the sweetness to it. It’s great with corn, obviously, but it is a unique flavor.” Chef Quintana’s favorite huitlacoche dish, which is also a crowd favorite at Rosa Mexicano, is the Alambre de Callos, which are huge scallop skewers served with rice. “The skewers are made up of scallops and peppers and onions; red, green and white symbolizing the colors of the Mexican flag… it also comes with red rice and huitlacoche sauce which is dark grayish, so it gives you a nice contrast to the plate,” describes Quintana.
In the Aztec language Nahuatl, huitlacoche is translated as “raven droppings”. It doesn’t sound too tasty, does it? As it turns out, it’s quite delicious! While I was at Rosa Mexicano, Chef Quintana kindly prepared a huitlacoche quesadilla for me and it was AMAZING. I absolutely loved the immense flavors and textures – slightly salty and sweet – and perfectly creamy as well. Huitlacoche has an earthy, rich flavor, and is a little mushy which balances incredibly well with the crunchy, sweet corn kernels sewn throughout.
Are you ready to try huitlacoche? Rosa Mexicano’s Mexican Truffle Celebration recently ended (there’s always next year) but have no fear, there are other places in NYC that make huitlacoche; go check out Mesa Coyoacan in Williamsburg! Huitlacoche is a must-try, especially for major foodies and adventurous eaters who are ready for a unique delicacy.
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