Foods | Cooking
Hints & Tips
This recipe and photos are courtesy of Cynthia Detterick-Pineda of Andrews, TX. More of Cynthia's
Population in the United State and far northern parts of Mexico, wheat flour
is what the immediate assumption when someone mentions “tortillas”. Corn, however, was the starch used throughout Mexico and large portions of the
southwest for hundreds of years before wheat flour was introduced. Even with
the massive amounts of wheat grown in the United States, it remains second
behind the production of maize (and corn) as a bread/cereal crop.
Even with the popularity
of flour tortillas in the northern parts of the Southwest, the corn tortilla
will always have its place. Enchiladas, tacos, chilequilas, flautas, and or
course the chips served in almost every Mexican/Spanish restaurant are only
a fraction of the numerous dishes centered on the corn tortilla. This is not
to say you cannot use flour tortillas for these entrees, but there is a
reason to using the corn tortilla versus the flour.
Corn tortillas are not as
likely to soak up the sauces used in some dishes (enchiladas for
example). Flour tortillas would simply become soggy, mushy gruel if used in
a dish with a large amount of sauce. Corn tortillas also fry better, partly
because they do not soak up as much oil as flour tortillas, but also because
they will continue to hold their crisp shape even when they have cooled
down. For dishes that would work equally well with either the flour or the
corn tortilla, it simply comes down to personal taste. The same goes for
serving tortillas on the side.
So why do almost all
restaurants serve only flour tortillas on the side? Some will give patrons
the choice, but even with a choice, most people of European descent will opt
for the flour tortilla to go with their meal. Maybe it is because wheat
flour based breads are what our ancestors ate for thousands of years, or
because we simply have not been exposed to the wonderful, light and delicate
flavor of a freshly cooked corn tortilla.
My first experience with
corn tortillas came years ago when I was still in high school. I would go
to the home of a friend after school, and as most of the “moms” in this area
who are of Spanish descent, she would be in the kitchen cooking up a
“snack”. I say snack because it was never intended to be a meal, even if
there was most than enough food for at least one meal if not more.
Abby (my friend) was not
Mexican, but Puerto Rican. Her mother cooked in a classically Puerto Rican
style, which included fresh corn tortillas with every meal. I would watch
her as she mixed the masa, form the balls, and place them in the
tortilladora to press them. Seems easy doesn’t it? Well, I found out later
that it wasn’t nearly as easy as she had made it seem. Maybe if I had been
doing it for 20 years my first batch would have come out looking better and
even edible! So for those of you who dare to try it, and you won’t regret
the effort it takes. Below are some step-by-step instructions on how to make
your own fresh corn tortillas.
Also learn how to make
Flour Tortillas (Tortillas de Harina).
Learn about the history of
Tortillas and Tacos.
Corn Tortillas Recipe - How To Make Homemade Corn Tortillas:
Yields: 2 dozen corn tortillas
Prep time: 20 min
Masa Corn Mix*
1 1/3 cups warm water
* Most grocery stores now carry bagged masa pre-made in the refrigerator section of the store.
below ingredient directions are from a package of Quaker® Masa Mix (Harina
de Maíz). Although I try to keep all my ingredients as fresh as possible, I do not make my own corn masa because of the limited availability of calcium
hydroxide (lime) where I live. I have seen older women soak their own corn in the water and lime mix, wash the husk off the corn and even grind them into using a metate, but I find
the mix taste just as good when the tortillas are made.
In a large bowl place the 2 cups of Masa Mix.
Make a well in the center of the mix and add the warm water all at once.
Using a large wooden spoon or your clean hands (my preference), mix
the ingredients together, making sure to scrape the dry ingredients from the bottom and sides.
Once the masa has begun to stick together, use a kneading
motion within the bowl to mix completely. You should have semi-clean bowl sides once you have mixed it all together.
Knead the masa for approximately 3 to 5 minutes. The masa should be slightly soft, but hold its shape.
Using a spoon or cookie scoop, take small amounts of masa and form these into balls.
Unlike the masa balls for flour tortillas, these just need to be rolled in your hands to a ball shape.
The masa will dry out quickly, so keep the balls inside the bowl
covered with a piece of plastic wrap while making your tortillas.
Comal, cast-iron griddle, or small skillet to about 450 degrees F. over medium to medium-high heat until water droplets "dance" when
dropped on the surface.
Definition of comal:
Mexican Comal or cast-iron plate used to make tortillas. If you do not have a comal, a large cast iron skillet or griddle
works well, or even an electric griddle can be used when heated up to 400 to 450 degrees F.
Known as a "tortilladora" in the Mexican language, a
tortilla press is a simple metal or wooden object with a base, top, and handle used to make corn tortillas. The
press is used to make only corn tortillas.
Smooth Inside of Tortilla Press
Substituting for Tortilla Press:
If you don't have access to a tortilla press (tortilladora),
you can hand roll corn tortillas. Use the same concept of the wax
paper or plastic wrap to place on top and bottom of the masa ball.
Then press and roll out between the them. This is not as easy, but
it is possible.
Place either two (2) pieces of wax paper, or two (2) sandwich-sized plastic bags (with the zip top cut off) over each side of the tortilla press.
NOTE: Even if you
have a press that says it is non-stick, you should use something to help the
dough to release from the press and to help transfer the tortilla over to the
pan, as they are very fragile before cooking.
Take one of the masa balls and place it on top of the wax paper or plastic bag on the bottom of the
tortilla press. It should sit slightly towards the hinge side of the press.
Place the second piece of wax paper or
plastic bag on top of the ball and press it with your hand to flatten it out to about 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick.
tortilla press top down to flatten the masa ball. Use the
handle to press the tortilla flat with a smooth even pressure.
Holding the press down for a few seconds will
often help flatten the tortilla more completely.
Slide the tortilla off the
press using the wax paper on the bottom and place it over the fingers of your
other hand. Peel off the wax paper before gently flipping it onto the hot
On the preheated hot Comal or cast-iron griddle, lay a tortilla round (working with 1 tortilla at a time).
Cook no more than 30 seconds. Using a spatula, gently flip the tortilla over and
allow the second side to cook another 30 seconds (it should take no more than 30
seconds on each side to cook the tortilla completely).
NOTE: Brown spots on your tortillas are good - an indication that they are handmade,
rather than punched out of a big machine and cooked assembly-line fashion.
Place the cooked tortilla
tortilla warmer or on a plate (lined with a dish towel or paper towels to keep them warm), to keep them moist and warm. Serve
immediately or refrigerate and reheat.
Makes approximately 2 dozen fresh corn tortillas.
Using tortillas in recipes: When making recipes that
require you to quick fry the tortillas before using (such as enchiladas, which
require you pass them through oil before stacking or rolling) you can use the
freshly-made tortillas without this step. This can help cut down on the amount
of total fat in a recipe. If the tortillas are not quite fresh enough to roll
easily without breaking, spritz the tortillas with a small amount of water and
place in a towel inside your microwave. Microwave on high for about 15 seconds,
and this will restore the freshness to them.
Storage: Corn tortillas can be refrigerated, wrapped in plastic wrap, for about 4 days.
To reheat for serving, sprinkle each tortilla with a few drops of water and heat on a
preheated nonstick pan for 10-15 seconds on each side. They can be also frozen
(corn tortillas freeze very well, much better than flour ones).
What's Cooking America© copyright 2004 by Linda Stradley - United States Copyright TX 5-900-517- All rights reserved. -