Thursday, September 20, 2012

Corn Soup with Sauteed Huitlacoche

There's no delicate way to phrase this. My husband is obsessed.

It all started innocently enough. In our Co-op, or in a corn field, depending on how far back you want to go. It doesn't really matter. The end result is still the same.

He returns home one day with An Announcement. "You'll never BELIEVE what I saw at the co-op." I perk up. (This was back at the beginning of September, when I was young and naive and innocently hopeful.) I think he's about to name a new exotic fruit that's shaped like a pear and colored like a parrot, or perhaps a six-foot long vegetable that gets roasted whole over a fire pit in certain areas of the Yucatan. "What??" I say, excitedly. He beams at me, or grins fanatically, depending on how you look at it. He leans forward. 

"There's this crazy mushroom that grows on corn."

"Yes," I say.

"Hyoo-it, hyoot, hwit..."

"Huitlacoche?" I say. (I had encountered it once in a phenomenal quesadilla at Toloache
in Times Square, where I'd learned both to pronounce it—weet-la-COH-chey—and not to think too carefully about what it looked like before it was prepared.)

"That," he says. He leans forward a little further.


"Well," I hedge, "It's kinda..."


"It's like corn mold. I don't know if..."

"I'll cook it. We're cooking it. It's amazing."

He turns to his laptop, starts typing. I think maybe it's a reprieve—he's gotten distracted by email. Five minutes later, he looks up, clearly delighted. "It's also called CORN SMUT," he announces happily.

I think that was the moment I knew. It was huitlacoche or bust.

To prepare huitlacoche, which you'll be reassured to learn is a delicately corn-flavored, nutrition-packed delicacy, rather than a fearsome fungal predator, peel back the corn husk and silk and gently pry the "kernels" of the mushroom from the cob either by hand or using a table knife for a little leverage. You can either chop them, slice them, or leave them whole, depending on how adventurous you're feeling in terms of texture and taste (we left the smaller ones whole, just to see what they were like, but I think next time I'd try slicing or chopping to keep the texture a little more even). The mushroom (also known as Mexican truffle) should be fairly firm, like corn itself, and a cloudy, faintly bluish-tinged color when you buy it (slimy means it's over the hill). And despite my initial skepticism, this truly was delicious.

Olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, 1 pressed and 1 smashed
3 ears fresh corn, kernels sliced from the cob
Chicken and/or veggie broth (about a cup)
Pinch ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-2 tbsp cream
1 tbsp chopped Anaheim chile
2 tbsp huitlacoche
1 tsp chopped fresh cilantro, plus extra leaves for garnish 

Heat a pot over medium heat. When hot, add half the butter and a glug of olive oil. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, and saute until soft. Stir in the pressed garlic clove and saute a minute more, then add the corn. Cook, stirring occasionally, for another couple of minutes, then pour in enough broth to just cover the kernels. Bring to a gentle boil, turn the heat down to medium low, and cover. Simmer 5-10 minutes, until the corn kernels taste tender and fully cooked.

Meanwhile, heat the rest of the butter and a glug of olive oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add the smashed garlic and the Anaheim pepper, and saute for a minute or so until they soften, pressing the garlic into the olive oil to flavor. Add the huitlacoche and a pinch of salt, and saute for about two minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the garlic clove, and sprinkle in the cilantro.

When the soup is done, puree with an immersion blender until smooth or desired consistency. Add a dash of cumin, a slosh of cream, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle soup into bowls. Place a dollop of the huitlacoche in the center, drizzle the soup with a little of the extra oil from the pan, and garnish with cilantro leaves. Serve hot.

Serves 2-3.

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