Huitlacoche quesadillas

Huitlacoche, the wonderful corn fungus of Mexico, has made its appearance in the supermercados. At 166 pesos a kilo, it isn’t cheap, but it is worth every peso, and compared to the price of truffles, it has to be a bargain. With a taste all its own, it is hard to describe, but comparing it to a rich mushroom-corn flavor would be the closest. If you like mushrooms, you will love huitlacoche. The only problem is that if you aren’t in Mexico in August and September, you will have to add the price of airfare to the cost. Sometimes Mexican grocery stores in the U.S. carry canned Herdez huitlacoche, which I’ve read is a good substitute for the real thing, but I’ve never tried it.

Fresh huitlacoche is silver-gray, turning inky black when cooked. See those large pieces in the photo? Those are individual corn kernels, enlarged and deformed by the fungi.

Corn farmers in Iowa and Nebraska know this strain of fungus (Ustilago maydis) well and must lose thousands of dollars destroying smut infested corn, while Mexicans are happily eating the same fungus and consider it a delicacy.

Many of the foods we eat in Mexico today that have been eaten since pre-Columbian times still bear their ancient names. Such is huitlacoche (also spelled cuitlacoche). Derived from the Nahuatil language, one explanation is that it is named after their word for “raven’s excrement”, no doubt because of its appearance and color. Would you like a couple of raven’s excrement quesadillas? They are delicious.

Huitlacoche Quesadillas   makes 4

  • 2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil, plus oil for griddle
  • 1/2 lb. (227 grams)  fresh huitlacoche, cut off the cobs and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 poblano chile, roasted, peeled and cut into strips
  • 2 sprigs epazote, thinly sliced (sorry, there is no substitute for this unique herb)
  • salt to taste
  • 4 corn or flour tortillas
  • 3/4 cup thinly sliced cheese, such as queso Oaxaca or fresco or Monterrey Jack
  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat.
  2. Sautee onion and garlic until tender but not brown.
  3. Add huitlacoche, poblano strips, and epazote and cook about 10 minutes. Salt to taste.
  4. Heat an oiled griddle over medium heat.
  5. Place tortillas on griddle and divide huitlacoche mixture evenly among them, placing on one side of tortilla.
  6. Place cheese on huitlacoche. Fold tortilla in half.
  7. Cook for about 2-3 minutes per side, or until cheese is melted and tortilla is starting to brown.

Notes:

If you can’t find huitlacoche where you live mushrooms are a good substitute, especially portobello mushrooms with their stronger flavor.

Epazote is a wonderful herb that belies description. With its stinky aroma and bitter taste, it adds a certain flavor to a pot of beans and to quesadillas that is distinctly Mexican. There is no other herb to use in its place, another reason to buy a plane ticket for Mexico.

Cold, left-over quesadillas make great snacks. Make extra.

Description unavailable
Image by CIMMYT via Flickr

More on huitlacoche:

In Mexico, Tar-Like Fungus Considered Delicacy (NPR)

Corn Smut (Wikipedia)

Huitlacoche (Gourmet Sleuth)

Huitlacoche: Cornell Mushroom Blog (Cornell University)

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14 thoughts on “Huitlacoche quesadillas

  1. Good morning Kathleen.
    We had a plate of huitlacoche, squash and chile rajas tacos at The River cafe in June. The huitlacoche did’t taste very strong though and the tacos weren’t very big seeing that it was one serving and we shared, so only two bites or so p.p, but I’ve been told by a waiter at Paradise Village they use squash blossoms from a can in a soup which could be because June is still early for fresh blossoms I thought. Could they use canned huitlacoche as well or does the flavour differ during the season? For what period can you get it fresh in Puerto Vallarta and surroudings?
    I’m going to ask at the two Mexican shops I know off down in Denver(make regular trips down the mountain from Evergreen for visits) if they get fresh in or carry the cans and try it.
    Here is a webpage I found in the US with Herdez canned huitlacoche.

    http://www.latinmerchant.com/productdetail.asp?ProductID=H0043
    It is in Seattle Washington

    1. Hi Clasina,
      I find squash blossoms all year ’round in the big supermarkets. Sometimes people go door to door selling bags of them, and I always buy them then because they are so fresh. I have not heard of using squash blossoms from canned soup, but I guess it is possible, though I don’t think the delicate flavor of fresh blossoms would survive. Canned huitlacoche is commonly used, as their season is only July through September. I just bought some fresh huitlacoche and we are having quesadillas with brie cheese for dinner. I have never tried canned huitlacoche, though I have read it is a decent substitute if fresh is unavailable. Thanks for the link — it may help some other readers who would like to try this delicacy.

  2. “Fresh huitlacoche is silver-gray, turning inky black when cooked. See those large pieces in the photo? Those are individual corn kernels, enlarged and deformed by the fungi.

    Not exactly true. The fungus actually infects the ovaries in the ear prior to fertilization, so the “kernels” that are produced are actually all fungus…it reprograms the corn DNA to make fungal galls. Fertilized ovaries cannot be infected.

    I’m beginning to market a canned version grown in Wisconsin on certified organic corn. Hope to bring it to market in the Fall of 2011.

    There are a number of other related products I hope to introduce in 2012/13.

    I’m collecting recipes…I’m particularity interested in non-Hispanic recipes using the fungus, and in general what sorts of things go well with them.
    Wizard of Odd, LLC Menomonie, WI

  3. Lorin Johnson

    These are my favorite quesadillas on the square in San Pancho in season. I don’t know where they get their huitlacoche at Christmas and Samana Santos time, but they do and it tastes very Lorinfresh. I keep checking the local organic corn and I only find worms!

    1. I would like very much to know where they get fresh huitlachoche from. Let me know if you find out. You won’t find any huitlacoche in your local corn unless a specific spore has been introduced. I wonder if it can be purchased to inoculate the corn?

  4. Beautiful photos! I always forget to add epazote to my huitlacoche — I’m thinking it’s just the herb I need to take it to the next level. Thanks for the reminder. :-)

  5. anneke

    YUM!!!!!! I have eaten many a huitlacoche quesadilla, but never one with big fresh chunks of this lovely fungus! :) Thank you for the tip about the canned Herdez brand here in the US. I will be on the hunt!

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