Quicos are my new favorite nibble, and I'll bet good money that if you like crunchy and salty snacks, they're about to be your favorite new nibble, too. These particular homemade quicos are tossed with lime zest and chili powder, making them even more irresistable than usual. If a Cinco de Mayo celebration is your future — or any party at all! — you'll definitely want this on your snack list.
To make quicos, you first have to find them. Almost any Latin American market will carry them in 1-pound bags labeled "maiz gigante" or "elote gigante." They will look like giant, dime-sized dried corn kernels and usually cost a few dollars. If you're having trouble finding them locally, you can find them online:
Quicos are made in much the same way as popcorn: warm a few teaspoons of oil in a pan, add the kernels, cover the pan and shake occasionally. After a few minutes, they'll start to pop. Loudly. I nearly jumped out of my shoes the first time I made these!
The quicos won't burst open quite as dramatically as popcorn, but cooking them on the stovetop makes them puff and expand. The outer layers get incredibly crunchy — almost flaky. The center is a little more dense, and I found that undercooked quicos (or quicos made from older kernels) can taste a bit overly starchy and chalky. If you get a few like this in your batch, try cooking your quicos a few minutes longer next time or pick up a different brand of corn kernels.
Toss the kernels with your favorite olive oil and a few teaspoons of seasoning when they're still piping hot from the stove. Rubbing lime zest right into the salt helps carry a subtle lime flavor into each bite, and the chili powder adds some heat and spice. Crunchy, spicy, zesty — these quicos are the perfect accompaniment to a margarita or a lime-marinated skirt steak coming off the grill!
Makes 2 cups
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Zest from 1 lime (preferably organic)
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 cups maiz gigante (giant corn kernels)
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
Combine the kosher salt and lime zest in a small bowl and rub them together with your fingertips to release the oil from the zest into the salt. Add the chili powder and set aside.
Warm the vegetable oil in a 4-quart saucepan with lid over medium-high heat. Set one corn kernel in the oil; when the oil starts to bubble around it, the oil is ready. Add the rest of the kernels to the pan, cover, and shake to coat all the kernels with oil.
Cook the kernels, shaking the pan occasionally. After about 5 minutes, you'll hear them begin to pop. Shake the pan more frequently and continue to cook until the popping slows, another 3-5 minutes. Check inside the pan occasionally: when all the kernels look puffed and are spotted golden-brown, they are ready.
Uncover the pan and immediately drizzle the quicos with olive oil and sprinkle with the salt, zest, and chili powder. Cover the pan and shake to evenly coat all the kernels. Pour into a dish and serve immediately.
(Images: Emma Christensen)