Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Homemade Corn Tortillas

After living in Mexico for a year, I eventually realized that store-bought corn tortillas in the states are a crime against humanity. They are dry, taste weird, and have the wrong texture. So stop buying them! The difference between homemade tortillas and store-bought is about the same as homemade bread and Wonder Bread. Really.

This recipe and others call for masa harina. It's corn flour made from lime-treated, de-hulled corn. It's available in the Mexican or baking aisle of just about any supermarket or any Mexican grocer. Note that you can't use plain old 'corn flour,' as it often is processed with the hulls on and will likely result in some very bizarre 'tortillas.'

Two key tricks I learned in cooking school in Mexico are to add use just a bit of white flour. This gives the tortillas strength, so they won't fall apart when you load them up. Also, use the hottest water possible when you make the tortillas, as the masa doesn't dissolve correctly in cold water.

Also, you’ll need a tortilla press: a small and inexpensive appliance available at most kitchen shops and online.

2 cups masa harina
1/4 cup white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water, as hot as you're able to touch

Heat a non-stick griddle or seasoned cast-iron pan over medium heat.

While pan heats up, combine first 3 ingredients in mixing bowl. With your hands, gradually knead in the water until you've reached the consistency of Play-Doh or soft cookie-dough and is plenty moist but won't stick to the sides of the bowl or your hands (this may require more than 1 cup of water, depending on the masa). Roll the dough into ping-pong-sized balls and cover them with plastic wrap or something to prevent drying (if they do get dry, just wet your hands before putting each ball into the press and gently re-roll them. This should re-introduce enough moisture.)

Place a ball in the tortilla press with a sheet of plastic wrap or waxed paper both above and below the ball. With your hands, flatten the ball a bit, then and press well. Now if you look closely, the press has likely made your tortilla a little flatter on one side than the other, which you don't want. So flip the tortilla over and reverse sides (the top right should become the bottom left). Now press once again, but very, very gently this time; you're not trying to smash it, just to even it all out.

Carefully extract your tortilla from the plastic or waxed paper and gently lay it on the griddle or pan. Dry fry about 30 seconds, or until it changes color slightly and the tortilla's edges lift slightly. Flip and repeat, cooking this side more like 60 seconds. Now flip once again, so the first side is down for another 45-60 seconds. If you've made the tortilla properly, it should poof up with air slightly. Now, start stacking in a tortilla-sized basket lined with a clean dish towel to seal in warmth and moisture as you cook the rest.

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