|These will be important later in the story.|
So we ended up in Tikal, and a guide took us to a restaurant, and the restaurant served us paca. The paca is sort of an animal unto itself, with two species and one genus in the family Cuniculidae. It is a cousin of the capybara, a fuzzy kind of rodent mostly famous for being designated a fish by Catholic missionaries eager to eat it on Fridays. Here ends my knowledge of this branch of the order Rodentia. I've seen a lot of capybara in the plains of Venezuela, but I ain't never eaten one.
I remember thinking that the paca tasted like veal. My father also later semi-gleefully told me that it was an endangered species (this turned out to be NOT TRUE). Well, huitlacoche doesn't taste like veal, and it's extremely common, so common that the US government has spent millions of dollars trying to eradicate it. Not that most of us have ever heard of it. Huitlacoche is a multi-layered thing, an infection of Ustiliga maydis (a fungus) in corn ears, the resultant food being an amalgam of both the diseased kernels (swelled almost beyond recognition) and the blackish fungus itself. Um, here's a picture of a relatively benign infection:
|Thank you, jasonsewell.|
Since huitlacoche is a fungus, it can be used in place of mushrooms in many recipes, although the taste is somewhat different--very pungent, very earthy. I elected to use my Bottle O' Excrement in some chiles rellenos, which turned out spectacularly. Where do you get huitlacoche? In your local Latin American grocery store. Unless you live in a yurt in Alaska, I refuse to believe that you don't have one of those. If you don't have one of those, here. But in that case you probably live in a place that grows corn, so don't tell me you can't find any. I live in Brooklyn, so I have to resort to the bodega.
|Yeah, corn fungus!|
Chiles Rellenos with Huitlacoche
- 4 medium poblano peppers
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 T olive oil
- 1 (8 oz) jar or can huitlacoche
- 1 package queso blanco or another mild white cheese
- 2 T butter
- 2 T flour
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 t Kosher salt
|Burn baby burn.|
Remove the peppers from the bowl and run under cool water, carefully removing the blackened skins. Let dry on a paper towel.
Prepare the béchamel by melting the butter over low heat in a small pan, then adding the flour and whisking until smooth. Continue whisking for two minutes, then slowly add the milk by quarter cups, whisking each addition until smooth. After all the milk has been added, turn the heat to medium and stir constantly until the mixture starts to boil, then reduce to a low simmer. Continue cooking until the béchamel thickens to coat the back of the spoon. Add salt and remove from the heat.
Turn the oven down to 350 and bake the peppers for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, and bake for an additional 20 minutes. Remove the peppers from the oven and let cool for 1o minutes before serving.
|Hot and cheesy fungus poppers.|