June 8, 2011

(Not Spanish) Tortilla Making 101

First off, I should mention that I don't mean Spanish tortillas (egg and potato omelets), but rather the delicious corn tortillas used in the cuisine of so many other places all over Latin America.

I absolutely love corn tortillas, especially those small fresh ones that I have stuffed my face with in Guatemala and Mexico so many times. In Spain it is now easy to find brands like Old El Paso and other similar versions, but these poor imitations (Old El Paso only contains 29% corn flower) lack the toasty corn taste and the soft yielding texture of real tortillas, and so I decided to make my own.
Years ago my roommate Alison and I made corn tortillas in the apartment that we shared in Madrid. She is a great cook and showed me how easy it was to press the tortillas flat by putting the ball of dough between two plates, pressing the top one firmly down in the center. Now a much lazier, and more gadget happy, version of myself asked a chef friend to buy me a tortilla press in Milwaukee and bring it to me at a wedding that we both attended two weeks ago in Chicago. Oh no, I just remembered that I never paid her back!

Anyway, I have been using it like mad since I got back to Madrid and I have to say that yes, my tortillas are indeed delicious and incredibly easy to make. The only ingredients are (instant) masa corn flour (which is now available at El Corte Ingles department store), water and salt. Masa is essentially a corn flour made out of corn that has been treated with lime and made into dough that is dried and powdered. The recipe on the back of the Maseca brand Masa that I bought (which is also used for tamales, pupusas, empanadas, etc.) calls for two cups masa, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 3/4 water, to make 16 small corn tortillas.

This is the process, as carried out in my tiny kitchen by me and my Dad, and captured on film for eternity by my Mom (visiting from Colorado). I should note that my dad has decades of experience frying up tortillas, ever since he and my mom would visit her family in San Diego and bring an empty suitcase along to fill up with tortillas straight from the best factory in Los Angeles. They would freeze them in our massive basement freezer in Michigan to last the year, during which snowy Midwestern Saturdays were perked up by my Dad's quesadilla lunches.

First, mix the Masa, salt and water together for about 2 minutes until forming a soft and smooth dough. You can add a bit more water if it feels dry, only about a Tablespoon at a time. It worked best to mix with our hands.
Then, to divide the dough up evenly into 16 parts, my father, the scientist, came up with this wonderful circular - Aztec looking - disk technique:

Then you roll each of the sections into balls, which you should keep under a slightly moistened cloth so that the dough doesn't get dry.

Lighting not a special effect
The next step is the tortilla press, just slip each of the balls of dough between two pieces of plastic wrap or wax paper (papel de horno) and press down. This is captured in this scintillating video.  Music by Al Green.

Voila! The last step is the cooking. About a minute on each side in a very hot, UNGREASED pan. This cooks the tortilla dough. Then, if you are going to use them for tostadas or tacos or the like, let them cool a bit and then fry in a bit of olive, or other, oil.

We had ours with chicken and vegetable fajitas during the Spain - USA soccer match. Unlike the game, the food made everyone happy!


Sarah said...

me want tacos! looks so easy...

a desert rat... said...

I would make these except . . . well, they make them next door! However, I bet these are better.

Ben Turner said...

Loved reading this thaank you

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