Sunday, June 24, 2012

Corn Tortillas: Better Than You Can Imagine

I know I just wrote about fried rice as the best go-to meal for left-over meat, but tacos provide an equally good (and quicker) option. I love tacos more than any food except pizza...and tacos are catching up now that I know how wonderful fresh tortillas are.

The dough should just stick together in a ball
What's not to love? There's a great mixture of flavors, temperatures (hot meat and beans, cold tomatoes and sour cream), and textures. Even the most basic of tacos – the taco truck fare that is a small corn tort with little more than some tender, shredded meat in it – has a strangely comforting feeling about it.

I always wondered why the corn tortillas from restaurants and taco trucks were so much better than those I bought at the store. The answer: freshness. The store-bought corn tortillas always seemed a bit dry and, well, stale. While cheap, they aren't really worth it, although they do fry up well in oil for a semi-crunchy shell.

I am in love with my tortilla press.  Sorry, Randy.
However, with the acquisition of our tortilla press and the relative ease of making flour tortillas, I decided to give corn torts a whirl. While even simpler than flour tortillas ingredient-wise (masa and water), corn tortillas are a little more challenging to me.

The first batch drove me to profanity. I followed the directions on the bag of masa, and the dough seemed to be the right texture. It pressed out into beautiful rounds...which then stuck to the parchment paper and wouldn't come loose in anything close to one piece.

Randy the Tortilla Master had to step in and save dinner and my sanity. He figured out two things that make corn tortillas a whole lot less frustrating.

First, the dough should actually look a little on the dry and crumbly side, but be just wet enough to form into a cohesive ball in your hand. If the tortillas are sticking, they are probably too wet. Add a little masa and things will be fine.
So much easier than trying to peel it off the paper!

The second trick is to leave the tortilla on the parchment paper until you have it on the griddle. Put the tortilla in the pan (tort side down, of course – you're not trying to toast the paper!) and then peel the paper off. It comes off a little easier, and even if there is a slight tear, the tort is already cooking and is easily repaired.

These cook at a lower temperature and take longer than flour tortillas. They cook for about two minutes on each side, which means a batch takes longer. Because of this, I highly suggest cooking them on a griddle so you can cook several at a time without using every burner on your stove.

Randy actually used the griddle and a pan so he could cook four at a time. I don't blame him. I was irritated both at my failure and at his easy success. Yes, I am petty enough to be upset when someone succeeds where I have not. Especially when I'm hungry. However, feeding me is always an easy way to cheer me up, and since he's a smart man, Randy got things cooked as quickly as possible.
The one on the right is flipped - these barely darken when cooked

The tortillas turned out brilliantly. It's almost like a completely different food than the supermarket tortillas. They are tender and soft and flavorful and just the right size for a small taco. Zoey has begun announcing out of the blue “OK, Mama, I want tortilla.” I think she phrases it as if I offered one to her so I'll feel obligated to follow through. Clever, clever girl.

2 cups (180 grams) masa
1 cup water

*Mix masa and water until you have a dough that is just moist enough to come together in a ball.
*Divide into 12 equal portions (roughly 1.5 ounces each) and press or roll into 6-inch rounds.
*Cook on a griddle set to 300F or in a pan over medium heat for two minutes each side.
*Place on a plate and cover with a damp cloth until all tortillas are cooked.

In July, I'm going to experiment with gluten-free recipes. I have no idea what I'm doing or where to start, so I'm pretty excited – I love making new things! There's just so much out there that I'm lacking direction, so I'm turning to you. What do you want me to try? (Results most definitely not guaranteed, but I'll give it my best shot and let you know where my mistakes happen).


  1. Becky! If you can make grain-free crackers that hold together and have some crunch, I want to know about it. (Egg-free would be a bonus for my allergic kid.)

    Our latest favorite gluten-free treat is a variation on these:

    They have very little sugar; a quarter cup of honey is actually too much, and I melt in a square of baking chocolate instead of doing chocolate chips.

    1. I will give it my best shot. Fair warning: I have tried to make crackers (graham) exactly once and they turned out a bit on the iffy side.

      Any nut allergies? My initial search for recipes found a lot that called for almond meal. Which I try will depend on what ingredients I can find in bulk (or grind down from something found in bulk) because I won't pay for Bob's Red Mill - the prices are way too inflated for my budget!

      There are several recipes that are egg-free, but the pictures look thick, so we'll see how they turn out (in my mind, crackers should be thin).

      I go shopping at the end of the month, so it'll take a couple weeks to get anything tested out, but I'll do my best as soon as I get some ingredients!

  2. I was babysat at the home of a Mexican family as a child, I was chief tortilla squoosher, and they were yummy.

    How did your non poo experiment come out?

    1. I haven't done it yet because I'm still usin up the last of my shampoo...soon, though!

  3. Next time try using boiling hot water. When cool enough to handle, mix and knead the masa with your hands, then shape into balls. I use plastic wrap instead of parchment (it's a little cheaper) when I place it on the press.

    My ratio is 2 cups masa
    1 cup plus 2 T boiling water

    1. I will try the boiling water trick, thanks! Sadly, though,I am incapable of using plastic wrap for anything other than creating a ball of plastic wrap. I don't know how some people make it look so easy...magic?