Sunday, March 11, 2012

Crepas de huitlacoche
con salsa de chiles poblanos

March 4, 2012
The first I ever knew of huitlacoche (or cuitlacoche) was seeing it a number of years ago in the Steve, Don't Eat It! blog series. The series' name should be the hint that it was not a positive mention - huitlacoche is a smut disease on corn and Steve was happy to play up this aspect, as well as its dark sludgy looks, for maximum disgust and entertainment.

More recently I noticed tacos de huitlacoche on the menu at Mamasita. While we didn't order them, it certainly opened my mind to huitlacoche's potential for deliciousness - everything else at Mamasita was great, after all! A week or two later I found myself discussing huitlacoche with a visiting Mexican colleague and others at the lunch table. He's a big fan it and pointed out that it's just a fungus, like mushrooms, right? And it's sometimes known as the Mexican truffle, such is its delicacy. The conversation concluded with an agreement amongst three of us to meet at the markets the following Sunday to shop and later prepare one of Pedro's favourite huitlacoche recipes.

Huitlacoche is not as accessible in Australia as it is in Mexico or the U.S. Pedro has used it fresh and is accustomed to paying a few dollars for it in cans; here those cans cost $15 apiece at Casa Iberica. Thankfully that one can stretched to lunch for six. Its contents don't look particularly appetising, for sure, but few things do straight from the tin. There was onion and spices mixed in there, too, much like a can of refried beans (... which has to be the grossest thing straight from the can, right? It reminds me of pet food).

In Pedro's recipe, the huitlacoche is sautéed with green onions, fresh corn and ezapote and serves as a crepe stuffing. The crepes are smothered with a creamy poblano chile sauce and grated mild cheese and baked. We tentatively tasted them with a simple side salad.

They were not a pretty picture, but they were pretty damn good. Though still deeply black and sludgy, the huitlacoche had a gentle earthy flavour boosted by the onions and complemented by the sweet corn kernels. I had to cordon off a serve in a plastic container for an absent friend before those present went ahead and finished off the whole dish.

By then we were all avowed fans of the 'hibernating excrement'! I'll definitely try using it again on my own. Working in the field of biosecurity as we do, we wondered whether this corn disease is present in Australia. Co-cook Yung tracked down a few interesting documents revealing that corn smut outbreaks have been recorded in Australia as early as 1911. There doesn't seem to be any hope for eradication and instead the corn "industry has learnt to live with the disease". Perhaps if more Aussies tasted Pedro's crepes they'd be even happier to co-exist with corn smut and it could support a small industry of its own.

Crepas de huitlacoche con salsa de chiles poblanos
(as shared by my colleague Pedro,
based on a recipe in A Taste of Mexico by Kippy Nigh)

1 cup plain flour 
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
butter for frying the crepes

3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup green onions, finely chopped
2/3 cup corn kernels
2 teaspoons dried epazote
1 x 420g can huitlacoche
salt to taste

2 poblano chiles, seeded and deveined
1 1/3 cups milk
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons plain flour
1 cup sour cream
salt to taste

1 cup grated cheese, firm but mild and able to melt
(Yung picked out a lovely goat's milk cheddar)

Start with the crepes. Place the flour in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk in the eggs, milk and vegetable oil to make as smooth a batter as you can. Melt a teaspoon of butter in a small non-stick frypan on medium heat. Pour a quarter-cup of the batter into the pan, swirling it around to make a large, thin, circular crepe. Let it cook until the edges are dried out and it's just barely about to brown, then flip it over. Don't worry it they're not perfect, but try your best to keep them intact. When the crepe's done, set it aside on a dinner plate. Repeat with the remaining mixture and stack the crepes up on the plate - hopefully you'll make about 9 crepes all up.

When the crepes are done, get busy on the filling. Heat the oil in a large frypan over medium heat. Sauté the green onions until tender, add the corn and epazote, and sauté until the corn is tender but still firm. Add the huitlacoche and cook the filling, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Season to taste.

Set the filling aside and prepare the sauce. Blend the chiles and 1/3 cup milk, until smooth. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and stir in the flour to make a paste. Gradually stir in the sour cream and then the remaining milk. Add some salt, then cook and stir the sauce until it thickens. Add the blended chiles and cook the sauce gently for a further 5 minutes. Set the sauce aside.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Lightly butter a large baking dish.

Spoon a tablespoon or two of filling in a line along the diameter of a crepe, roll it up and place it in the baking dish. Repeat with all the crepes, lining them up snugly in the baking dish. Pour the sauce over the crepes and sprinkle over the grated cheese. Bake the crepes until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbly, about 25 minutes.

Serve hot with a side salad.


  1. That sounds pretty good - but not having heard of 'Steve, don't eat it!' before, I had to click through and read the entire series. Aghh!! So gross!!

  2. Fascinating - I only heard of it in the last year or so and thought it sounded disgusting but was quite pleased about that - meat eaters have all those offal and insects dishes that are challenging and what do we have as to horrify us us as vegetarians (apart from looking on at our carnivorous friends in horror). I am not a huge mushroom fan so fungus isn't really so much my thing - but I am curious

    1. You're right, Johanna - we need more visceral, challenging vegetarian foods! Huitlacoche definitely fits the bill.

  3. You want us to eat corn smut disease??! I think I'll stick with refried beans thankyouverymuch!

    1. Fair enough, Louise. :-)

      Having tried it, though, I'm definitely going to go back for more!

  4. These were amazing. Our cuitlacoche came in a jar not a can, but were pretty easy to find in a nearby Mexican neighborhood grocery(we live in Philadelphia USA). The first taste took some courage, but they were delicious. We think we're going to use the rest in a soup.

    1. Welcome, Jamie! I envy you such groceries. Glad you braved and enjoyed cuitlacoche too. :-)