Join Me in Eating Some Smut

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When a friend asked recently where she could find huitlacoche, I replied, just about anywhere there's a Mexican grocery.

Huitlacoche (Ustilago maydisis, sometimes spelled "chuitlacoche") is a fungus something like a puffball - smudgy white on the outside and black on the inside. The unlovely English name is corn smut. It snuggles up to the corn kernels inside the husk, and as many as a dozen specimens typically inhabit a single ear of corn. But far from being a botanical pest, huitlacoche is considered a great delicacy, sometimes called the Mexican truffle. It is occasionally available fresh in New York, but usually in upscale restaurants. Canned huitlacoche is excellent too, and always available. Just find a Mexican grocery.

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I was up in the Bronx recently lecturing at Lehman College. Needless to say, I was surrounded by Mexican groceries. I stopped in at El Rancho Deli Grocery, figuring to find a taqueria in the back of the store, and there was. I ordered up a huitlacoche quesadilla ($6) and the cook threw a giant masa tortilla onto the griddle, covered it with cheese, onions, and iceberg lettuce, squirted on hot sauce, and then spooned on a luxurious quantity of huitlacoche. The black gooey mass was studded with corn kernels, and the chunks of fungus were mushroomy in texture and shape. The thing tasted great, and I was barely able to finish it.

I nodded gracias to the cook, and a grabbed a can of huitlacoche to bring home to my friend. 19 East Kingsbridge Road, Bronx, 718-933-3138

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