May 29, 2011

Homemade Corn Tortillas

I've been thinking about making corn tortillas for a long time. I was delaying because I thought I didn't like corn tortillas. What I don't like are corn tortillas from a store. I find them way too, well, corny. And sometimes bitter. And by the time you buy them from a store, they aren't fresh. Nothing beats a tortilla made fresh and eaten while it's warm.

Corn tortillas are simple to make. Very, very simple. If you need some encouragement there are videos on the Internet to get you started. But it's easy, trust me. Even if you don't have a tortilla press you can do this.

First, start with some masa harina. This is corn flour that has been treated with lime. It's sold in 5-pound bags at our grocery stores. I would think any grocery store in a semi-large urban area will carry masa harina. You can also order it online. With masa harina you can make tortillas, pupusas, tamales, empanadas, sopes, and gorditas. So it's worth the effort to get some and start cooking.
Now, when I take photos for the blog, I'm limited to a very small area in the house with sufficient natural light. I have a small area on the dining room table and that's about it. Any time I set up items to photograph, it's like the cats hear, "Attention K-Mart shoppers!" and I spend half the time pushing them away from the food or, in this case, the bag of masa harina. By the time you set the bag on the table and dig for the camera in your bag, the cats are all over the table - a definite infraction of the house rules. But I figured what the hell, just take the shots. Miles had to chew the bag because he loves to chew.
Misu doesn't chew but she does love to eat so she made sure she wasn't missing a snack opp.
The instructions are provided on the package. I used two cups of masa, a pinch of salt and about a cup and a half of water. The proportions are an estimate. Add enough water to form a dough like play-dough. Remember, there is no gluten in corn flour so don't expect any elasticity while you knead. And you can't over work this dough. Just keep working it until you get a nice moist but not wet dough. Place a damp towel over the dough if you still have work to do before you cook the tortillas.
You can use a tortilla press like I have here. You can find them in any Mexican grocery and even in Safeway in my neck of the woods. I picked up mine at a Mexican store in White Center. I think it was $8. Plastic and easy to clean.
Speaking of plastic, line each surface of the press with plastic wrap, wax paper, or cut open a freezer bag but leave the end seam in tact. You can open and close it like a book while it's tucked inside the press.
In the meantime, heat your griddle or your flat pan to a relatively high heat. Be mindful that some non-stick pans do not tolerate high heat while empty on a burner. Roll out golf-size balls of dough. If you roll them all out at once (recommended) keep that damp towel over them. Place a dough ball on the plastic-lined press, just slightly off-center. Place the other half of the plastic on top of the ball. Lower the top of the press onto the ball and press. Then bring the handle down over the top and press again. If you don't have a press, use a large heavy plate or pan. Use a piece of wood or an old dictionary. Something flat that can take the pressure of a good heavy press.
When you open up the press you should have a nice flat uncooked tortilla. Here is where a delicate hand and some practice will pay off. Pick up the tortilla while still on the plastic and flip it over onto your hand and gently peel away the plastic. With the tortilla now free in you hand, slap it down onto your dry griddle or into your dry pan. If the tortilla breaks just cook the pieces. Eats the same. After you make a few of them it gets easier. Cook on each side for about at least a minute. Depends on how hot the griddle is. I just let them go and go and flip a few times. Some light brown spots might appear. The tortilla might puff up. Both are signs of a homemade delicious tortilla. As you remove them from the heat, keep them in a tortilla warmer or wrapped in a dish towel.
And then you can get your grub on by filling these with anything. How about spicy ground turkey (with garlic, onion, jalapenos, smoked paprika, yellow bell peppers, a spicy seasoning we picked up in Chimayo, NM, and a heavy glug of Jufran banana ketchup) and homemade pico de gallo?
The tortillas were tender, flexible, warm, slightly chewy. And the corniness was subtle. Not at all bitter. All through dinner S and I kept raving about how good they were. You can store the remaining tortillas in a freezer bag in the refrigerator for a week (according to the instructions on the bag of masa harina). To re-heat them, I just threw them back on the griddle the next night while I made another batch. You can also loosely wrap them in a damp paper towel and microwave for about 30 seconds. You can also make tortilla chips! Details to follow.


jeannie said...

Perfect timing, Bo. Bill and I were just talking about trying to make these. I said, "I'll ask Vick. I'm sure she knows." And, there ya go! Now, I just have to find the "stuff", as our pickin's are anything but urban or international. Thanks!

The Rowdy Chowgirl said...

You make it look so easy! I've made lots of flour tortillas way back when I worked in a Mexican restaurant, but I've never tried making corn tortillas. And, you've sparked my interest in homemade pupusas...

vb said...

Jeannie, check the dreaded W-Mart since it's the biggest thing around you. Otherwise, I bet you'd find it in Charleston on your next big city run.

vb said...

Rowdy, they WERE easy. A couple of them turned out wonky but that's expected. And I learned to make my griddle hotter and my dough wetter the second time I made these. Speaking of pupusas, those are on deck, probably this weekend!


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