Thursday, July 8, 2010

And now, for something completely different...

This is the Mexican black truffle. A fungal spore known here as cuitlacoche, known in the States as corn smut (or ustilago maydis to your agriculturist), known to the Aztecs as "sleeping excrement"*. It's as remarkable in flavour as in appearence, musty and sweet, toothsome, and possesing the singular quality of the umami chain of amino acids. Though it now fetches high prices both here and abroad, featuring seasonally on high-end restaurant menus, it is common to hear stories of times when there was little more to eat and pounds of cuitlacoche would be consumed day after day.

It has long been a major blight upon the corn industry in the States, where decades of work have gone into working towards eradication. During that research, it was discovered that ustilago maydis serves as a model organism for research due to its yeast-like proliferation. In addition, because the cellular structure of fungus shares properties with human cells this research led to a discovery of synthesis-dependant strand annealing. In common English, this is to say that cuitlacoche revealed the process of DNA repair. How bout that?

I use mine for hunger repair. Sauteed with a little butter and shallots, salt and chicken stock for around 10 minutes, stuffed in a tortilla with quesillo and epasote. As my Chef used to say, "get the best ingredients you can, then do as little as you can to them."

Stay tuned for a visit to the mushroom festival in Cuajimaloyas at the end of the month. Happy eating.

* A term reserved for young politicians in Australia.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Mole Negro de Teotitlan

A simple tlayuda with mole negro, quesillo and shallots.

The thing I didn't get about the black mole, was how it became so black. I simply figured, as one might, that the chile and chocolate aspects of the dish took care of that somehow, but looking over the ingredients I realised it was unlikely. A very small amount of chocolate with a lot of chiles, but they were mostly red to deep red. So, then?

Of course I had another clue, and it lay in my Y chromosome. As male apprentice chef, I learnt in very tangible ways what my mother had demonstrated for many years: men are less than naturally adept at multitasking. And since the occupation as a chef pretty much boils down to multitasking, time and taste, it was a skill I sorely needed to acquire.

There were a few casualties along the way, and a few extra-large meals I slipped to the kitchenhands charged with dealing with my victims. So therein lies the solution to how to get things black, simply by doing exactly what I had been trying not to do since I picked up a wooden spoon: burn the hell of of it.

Obviously there is quite a technique to it, but it's the fire that you are looking for. Some recipes call for burnt tortillas, but this one from Teotitlan de Valle incinerates the seeds from the chiles, and blackens the chiles themselves. The sharpness, balance, complexity and texture of this mole negro make it clear why it is regarded as the king of moles. Oh, you might want to burn the chile seeds in a well ventilated area, outside is best. Provecho.

Reyna Medoza of Teotitlan de Valle toasting chile guajillos.

| makes 4 portions

6 chiles guajillos
3 chile mulatos
125g roma tomato
40g tomatillos
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
15g walnuts
1 inches cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
25g sesame seeds
6 almonds
1 pimienta gorda
1/2 teaspoons thyme
1 bay leaves
20g raisins
2 cloves
2 tablespoons oregano
2 tablespoon manteca
30g sugar
30g mexican chocolate
1 avocado leaf
20g dried bread
750ml Caldo de Pollo
salt, as needed
  1. After wiping the chiles clean, split, de-seed and toast all together on a comal, burning them slowly until somewhat blackened (though you should not see smoke). Place in a metal bowl and cover with chicken stock to soften. Leave sit for 10 minutes.
  2. With very good ventilation, toast the chile seeds until very hot then set them on fire until completely charred. Add to the chiles.
  3. At the same time on a comal, toast the tomato, tomatillo, garlic, and onion. When the tomatoes are soft all the way through, remove from the heat. Quickly toast sesame seeds till golden, then add the nuts and spices and heat for a further minute before adding to the chile mix.
  4. Fry the bread in manteca until lightly golden and crunchy. Add to the chiles.
  5. Place the mix in a blender with enough liquid to blend until very fine. Pass the mixture through a fine strainer, reserve.
  6. Take the manteca and heat it in a frying pan. Carefully add the paste, fry for 2-3 minutes until very fragrant. Add the salt, chocolate sugar and avocado leaves. Fry for 10 minutes then add the remaining stock. Simmer for half an hour, stirring frequently. Serve.