Sunday, August 11, 2013

Getting Smutty in the Kitchen


Before our more sensitive readers get alarmed, fear not – Monkeyshines in the Kitchen has not turned into one of the more prurient corners of the World Wide Web. The smut that we are talking about is Ustilago maydis, otherwise known as corn smut – and celebrated in Mexico as huitlacoche.

U. maydis is considered an unwelcome pathogen amongst corn farmers in the US, since it infects ears of corn and replaces the sweet golden kernels with the greyish blue ‘tumors’ shown in the picture above. In Mexico, however, huitlacoche is prized and used in a variety of dishes. Last weekend, one of the vendors at our local farmers’ market was selling huitlacoche corn, so we figured we’d give it a try.

When you peel away the corn husk, this is what you find:

corn shucked_web

Cross section through the ‘tumors’:

Not the most appetizing sight! However, we chopped up the huitlacoche, stripped the remaining corn kernels from the cobs and set about turning it into something tasty.

Sopes de Huitlacoche

Ingredients (serves 2)

Corn hash
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 green Anaheim chiles, chopped
Huitlacoche from 2 corn ears, plus remaining corn
1 tbsp oil

Salsa verde
3 large tomatillos
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp chopped cilantro

Salsa roja
2 small tomatoes, chopped
1 mild red chile, chopped
1-2 scallions (to taste)

Masa dough mix

Queso fresco (or any other suitable cheese)
Avocado (optional)

Salt and pepper

ingredients copy
Top: onions and chiles, corn and huitlacoche
Bottom: ingredients for salsa roja and prepared salsa verde


  1. Saute the onion and chiles in the oil over medium heat in a large skillet until soft
  2. Add the chopped huitlacoche and corn, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the huitlacoche turns black. Add a little water if the mixture gets too dry and starts to stick to the pan
    corn hash
  3. Meanwhile, make the salsa verde. Boil the tomatillos for about 5 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon. Toast the cumin in a small skillet until it gets fragrant, then grind in a mortar and pestle. Halve the tomatillos, then puree them in a blender with the cumin, cilantro and salt to taste.
  4. To make the salsa roja: mix all ingredients and add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. For the sopes, Prepare the masa dough according to the instructions on the bag, and shape into thick discs about 3 inches (7-8cm) wide. Cook on a hot griddle, flipping as necessary until brown spots appear on each side. Our sopes were more like thick tortillas, although sometimes they are made with pinched sides, so as to form a sort of raised rim. Either way works!
  6. Top the sopes with the corn hash, salsas and garnish with cheese and, if using, avocado. Serve immediately.

The sopes with corn topping:


…and the final plate:


So what did they taste like? We thought they were very good – the huitlacoche flavor was not assertive but it definitely added a richness and umami quality that we really liked. We will definitely be having further culinary adventures with smut!

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