As I watched the promotional video, the beautiful imagery of Mexico flashed before my eyes, a mariachi band, a colorful street scene, a woman in a brightly embroidered blouse flipping tortillas on a hot comal, handsomely dressed charros galloped their hor…whoa, back up to that previous scene!
I must have watched the three second clip of the woman’s fingers deftly flipping tortillas at least a dozen times, her knack for flipping the tortillas without burning herself was impressive, but what really caught my eye was the way each tortilla puffed up instantly after being turned. Puffing up is the sign of a perfectly prepared tortilla and when it comes right down to it, it’s impossible to make a truly great taco unless it’s wrapped in a tortilla that allows the fillings to shine.
Now don’t get me wrong, even the tortillas you make on your first try will be much better than those you can buy and, although they say practice makes perfect, the truth is that my tortillas have been inconsistent lately. My wounded psyche needed to conquer the art so who better to turn to than Alma de La Rosa. Alma cooks for the restaurant Oasis in nearby Litibu; the Oasis is known for their tortillas “hechas a mano” or handmade tortillas. There are only two ingredients in corn tortillas, corn flour and water, the rest of the formula is art and experience. Many variables such as pan type, heat level, moisture content of the masa (dough) and cooking time are just some of the factors that affect the final outcome so troubleshooting can be complicated. Alma took me under her wing, she shared her entire process right down to her timing for flipping the tortillas and she also shared a life hack for soft flexible tortillas that reheat beautifully if all else fails. Thanks to Alma my tortillas are puffing up again so I want to share the formula for your rapid success.
1. A griddle that covers two burners is an excellent choice for cooking the tortillas two at a time but cooking them one at a time in a fry pan will work.
2. You will need two pieces of heavy plastic; a gallon size ZipLoc bag is my plastic of choice, just cut off the zipper and around the sides. I prefer to leave the bag attached along the bottom so I have one long piece of plastic which I fold over the ball of masa rather than two pieces but that’s up to you.
3. If you don’t have a tortilla press, no worries, press the tortillas between two sheets of plastic on a smooth work surface using a glass pie plate. A glass plate will allow you to see when the desired diameter has been achieved.
4. Both Alma and I use the Maseca brand of corn flour; however, I’m sure other brands of corn flour are comparable. Prepare the masa according to the package instructions, 2 cups corn flour with 1½ cups warm water. Combine the corn flour and water and mix for two minutes or until the masa comes together into a ball.
5. Although it’s not indicated in the package directions, I recommend that you wrap the ball of masa tightly in plastic wrap to keep it from drying out and allow it to rest for 20-30 minutes; the corn flour is ground from very hard, dry corn kernels so it takes time for it to be fully rehydrated throughout. If you believe your masa is too wet after mixing, I recommend that you wait until after it has rested before adding more flour because you’ll likely find that it has the right texture after it rests. If you do decide to add more flour, add no more than one tablespoon at a time. Your goal is to have a soft, flexible masa that feels somewhat spongy, when you press it lightly with your finger it should spring back slightly.
6. Form the masa into individual balls the size of ping-pong balls. Always keep the masa covered with plastic or a damp dish towel to prevent it from drying out.
7. Preheat your griddle for 3-5 minutes. The temperature setting is going to depend on the type of griddle or pan you’re using and how well it conducts heat. My copper griddle will be too hot on medium-low, the nonstick griddle in the photo does well on medium low but most recommend using a higher heat level. The tortillas will be your best indicator of ideal temperature as explained below.
8. Press a tortilla between the two sheets of plastic until it is 5-6 inches in diameter. If the edges of the tortilla crack when pressed the masa is too dry. Remove the top sheet of plastic and transfer the tortilla to your hand, peel away the bottom sheet of plastic. If the tortilla sticks to the plastic your masa is too wet.
9. Place the bottom edge of the tortilla on the griddle and pull your hand away so that the entire tortilla falls onto the griddle, the side of the tortilla that was lying on your hand should be lying on the griddle (see photo).
9. The edge of the tortilla should begin to lighten within 15 seconds as the masa dries. Flip the tortilla over and you should see small light spots across the surface and possibly a small amount of browning around the perimeter. If the tortilla doesn’t release from the pan surface you’re flipping it too soon or your pan isn’t hot enough. If the tortilla has dark brown spots you need to lower the heat.
10. Allow the tortilla to cook on the second side for 30-40 seconds, when you flip it back over to the first side you should see some nice browning in spots. If you have burnt areas the pan is too hot. The tortilla should begin to puff up within a few seconds. Let it cook for approximately 10 seconds and remove it from the griddle, place it between the fold of a clean dish towel to keep warm. If your tortilla doesn’t puff up, don’t worry, it will still be delicious and you can make adjustments next time.
11. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, stacking them in the towel as they’re cooked. Once you have the timing down you can add another tortilla to the opposite end of the griddle and cook two at a time.
Yield: 16-19 tortillas 5 to 6 inches in diameter
*Alma’s secret tortilla hack if all else fails: Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour to the 2 cups of corn flour. The addition of the wheat flour will help the tortillas puff up and the resulting tortillas are very pliable and remain pliable after reheating.
In the next issue of El Sayulero: Shredded Beef in Salsa Verde with Roasted Tomatillo and Avocado Salsa.
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*Written by: Terri Arronge