making tortillas, the final step produces finished
tortillas after frying.
in the mid-1800s, tensions were mounting between the U.S.
and Mexico. Contemporaneously, many Roman Catholic, Irish
immigrants to the U.S. were experiencing discrimination in
their mostly Protestant adopted home.
hostilities breaking out between us and our neighbor to the
south, a number of these Irish immigrants, sympathizing with
Mexico as another poor, Catholic nation put upon by
Protestant overlords, left the U.S. and formed an artillery
battalion within the Mexican army.
St. Patrickís Day still on our minds, and in commemoration
of "Los San Patricios," as they were known, weíre
making fresh corn tortillas.
YOU NEED TO LEARN THIS
lovely wife, who shuns packaged corn tortillas, said,
"You should tell the people that even if they think
they donít like corn tortillas, theyíll love
these." Consider yourselves told.
STEPS YOU TAKE
has been cultivated in the Americas for thousands of years
and remains a major dietary component for much of the
population. One thing about corn, though: If you eat it
fresh, you canít access one of its vitamins: niacin
(vitamin B3). A niacin deficiency can lead to a nasty little
ailment called pellagra, whose symptoms include skin
lesions, stomach problems and dementia.
in a food column? Yikes.
pre-Columbian peeps began soaking corn (or maize) in an
alkaline solution (water mixed with ash). This soaking,
called "nixtamalization," frees up the cornís
niacin, making it available to us human consumers, lessening
our risk of pellagra.
also dissolves the glue holding the husk of the kernel to
the meat, called the endosperm. With the husks easily rubbed
off and separated, the endosperm can be ground into a dough
called "masa." Balls of masa were, and still are,
flattened and cooked on a griddle, becoming the ancient
flatbread known as tortillas.
the soaked kernels are cooked instead of ground into masa,
theyíre called hominy, large, white starchy kernels used
in soups and stews, the best known of which is the Mexican
pozole, a rich, red spicy broth garnished with hominy and
bits of pork.)
as youíve probably gathered, fresh masa is time-consuming
and difficult to make, so weíll take a shortcut via the
packaged, dried variety called masa harina. Masa harina
resembles finely ground corn meal, but it isnít corn meal
and donít try substituting it. Corn meal doesnít form
dough like masa, so you wonít be able to shape tortillas.
Happily, you can find masa harina in Mexican groceries or
supermarkets where thereís a sizable Mexican-American
masa harina, cranking out fresh tortillas is pretty much
easy peasy lemon squeezy. You donít even need a tortilla
press, though theyíre relatively inexpensive and easy to
find (again, anywhere with a sizable Mexican population).
own a tortilla press, you probably donít need this
tutorial. For the pressless masses, though, soldiering
through this screed: Anything flat and heavy will suffice,
like a plate or a pie pan or a manhole cover or a small,
alien spacecraft. I like glass pie or cake pans because you
can watch your masa transmogrify from dough ball to
tortilla. Letís begin:
a heavy pan or griddle over a medium to medium-high flame.
While itís heating, make the dough. Figure one tortilla
for each ounce of masa harina. For eight tortillas, weíll
combine 1 cup of masa harina with 2/3 cup warm water and a
quarter teaspoon of salt. Stir it with a spoon until the
water is fully incorporated, a minute or two. Use your hands
to form a dough ball. The ball should not be sticky nor
should it be crumbly. Think Goldilocks. (You may need 2 to 4
tablespoons more water.) Divide the ball into eight equal
pieces and cover them loosely with plastic wrap.
Coat two sheets of plastic wrap with nonstick spray. Place a
masa ball in the center of one sheet and cover it with the
other sheet, sprayed side down.
Center your flattening implement on top of the dough and
press down to flatten it like a vanquished foe into a 6- or
7-inch circle, about 1/8-inch thick. Pressing the implement
in a circular motion around the tortillaís circumference
will give a bit more spread.
Peel off the top sheet and flip the tortilla over onto your
dominant hand. Peel off the bottom sheet and lay the
tortilla on the hot pan and cook for 30 to 60 seconds, until
the edges look dry. While itís cooking, press another
tortilla. Flip the first with a spatula and cook until done:
15 seconds? A minute? Youíve eaten tortillas. You know
what they look like. Remove and cover with a clean towel to
Make all eight tortillas, cooking and stacking as you go.
You can wrap them and refrigerate for several days or use
immediately. To use, rewarm on the griddle or place directly
onto the burner over the flame for several seconds per side,
just enough to warm them, not enough to set them on fire.
Use for tacos or quesadillas, or cut into strips and
deep-fry for chips, or just roll them up and eat them in
their naked, delicious state.