When did you first become interested in cooking and becoming a chef?
I’ve been cooking all of my life so becoming a chef seemed natural. In my hometown of Puebla in Mexico, I learned the principles of Mexican cuisine by cooking with my mother every day. I’m the oldest of four brothers and four sisters, so I was always helping my mom in the kitchen feeding our family of 10!
Do you have an all-time favorite mushroom dish?
My favorite and most memorable mushroom dish is a quesadilla made with huitlacoche and quesillo in a blue corn tortilla. Another favorite is a soup with corn fungus or huitlacoche. Huitlacoche is white when it’s young but then eventually turns black as it gets older.
You have tried to keep Hugo’s as authentic as possible. How have your guests received some of the more unusual dishes?
We have grasshoppers from Oaxaca on the menu, which are actually very popular. The grasshoppers grow up in sesame seed fields so have a delicious nutty flavor. We sauté with olive oil, parsley, garlic, and served them with a wedge of lime and corn tortillas. Guests are excited to try it! We also make our own chocolate. We get cocoa beans from Oaxaca and we toast and grind them ourselves.
What role do mushrooms play in Mexican cuisine?
Mushrooms play a very important role in traditional Mexican cuisine, especially in Vera Cruz, parts of Oaxaca, Puebla and Tlaxcala. The people in these regions have been cooking with mushrooms forever, so there are lots of very old and traditional delicious mushroom dishes, like mushroom soup, mushroom quesadillas and mushroom tamales.
Can you tell us a little about the mushroom tamales you serve at Hugo’s?
The Mushroom Tamales are a very popular item at the restaurant. We sometimes serve mushroom tamales with lamb. We also make a different kind of mushroom tamal from Vera Cruz called a Zacahuitl. We layer banana leaves in a clay pot then bake the mushroom tamal inside.
Recipe courtesy of Chef Hugo Ortega, Hugo’s, Houston
Yield: 24 servings
- 2 pounds fresh masa for tamales
- 1/2 cup lard, softened
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 ounces white onion, diced
- 6 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
- 6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced
- 1/2 ounce fresh parsley, chopped
- Salt and pepper, as needed
- 24 corn leaves, soaked in hot water
To make Masa: Combine fresh masa with lard and stock in mixer using paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed for about 20 minutes. Season with salt to taste.
To make Filling: Heat oil in large sauté pan. Sauté garlic, onion, and mushrooms until just tender. Mix in parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Drain corn leaves. Working one at a time, lay out a leaf with pointed end facing you. Scoop 1 1/2 ounces Masa onto leaf and spread, forming a rectangle lengthwise 3/4 inch from top and 1 inch from each side. Masa should only extend halfway down leaf. Spoon 1 tablespoon Filling on top. Roll one side of leaf over Filling, roll over the other side to enclose it. Fold up bottom and tie tamale closed with a strip torn from another corn leaf.
To cook: Place tamales vertically in steamer, with open ends facing up. Steam, covered, for 30 minutes, until they fluff up and become somewhat firm. Serve immediately, or cool and refrigerate. Resteam briefly to reheat.