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Monday, November 5, 2012

Tasting with the eyes

Huitlacoche and monkfish chowder
Over at Foodapalooza 2012, BBQDude requested a dish made from huitlacoche, corn kernels infected with the fungus Ustilago maydis. In American agricultural circles, it's considered the pathogen corn smut, but in Mexican cuisine, it is as prized as truffles. Indeed, the comparison is apt, as it has that range of complex flavors reminiscent of truffles.

The challenge of cooking huitlacoche is the alarmingly black color and the misshapen distended corn kernels filled with spores. Traditionally, this is hidden in an enchilada or an empanada, but our past project involved using it as a savory cheesecake - which at one point was compared to dirty dishwater in appearance but fortunately not in taste. This time around, I wanted celebrate the color of the ingredient, and hopefully make it attractive as well. I chose to make a soup - a chowder in fact to celebrate the New England fall.

We found some nice monkfish tails, which I took fillets off of. The trimmings and bones go into a pot with slices of ginger and water to make a fish stock. In a second pot, chopped onions are sautéed, and then the canned huitlacoche, then clarified fish stock. Pass this through a blender, and then a sieve to remove any small bits. Meanwhile, in a second pot, I made a roux from butter and flour, cooking this to a blonde stage. The soup is then added back in, and cooked to a thick soup. Finally, cream is added to taste. Seasoned, of course, with salt and pepper.

One challenge is that the only sweet corn available was canned. So I drained it, and laid it out on a sheet pan and put it under the broiler until slightly charred. This livens up the texture and flavor.

For service, I brought the monkfish fillets to room temperature, dried them off, and seasoned liberally with salt and pepper (Sichuan peppercorns would be good here, but I didn't have any available at the time), and a little oil. Get a heavy pan really hot, put in some heat stable oil. Lay the fish in the pan, and finish in a hot oven.

To serve, a few ladelfuls of soup, a few spoonfuls of corn, and lay the sliced fish on top. Serve with spoon and camera.

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