Sunday, August 18, 2013

Authentic Corn Tortillas

I always thought I liked flour tortillas and disliked corn tortillas.  I recently discovered that I LOVE corn tortillas, I'd just never had good ones until I made them at home.  If you buy them in a stack of fifty at the store, you're not getting good ones.

The ingredients are dead simple, but there is one special piece of equipment: the tortilla press.  You need one.  If you like Mexican food, you need one of these.  Seriously, just buy that one.  Cast aluminum, easy cleanup, works great, 12 bucks with free shipping.  Plus, if you buy that one, I get a kickback from Amazon.

You'll need two pans:  non-stick or (best option) cast iron.  It sounds like a lot of work, but after you do a couple you'll get the hang of it.  It's far easier, it helps keep a steady pattern, and if you do it right the tortillas will puff up beautifully on the right-hand pan.  After pressing a tortilla, put it on the left-hand pan, cook for 30 seconds, flip, cook for 30 seconds, move to right pan, cook for 30 seconds, flip, cook for 30 seconds, move to tortilla warmer (or plate covered with a towel).  So an ideal workflow is (moving from left to right) dough => press => low pan => high pan => warmer.  Like I said, it sounds complicated but it'll make sense once you try it.  It really does work well.  You can see my two pans (and lots of unwashed dishes) in the background, behind this child model we brought in for the photo shoot.

So easy a child can do it.
Finally, you'll need masa flour.  We're pretty big on not buying single-purpose ingredients: we make most meals from scratch and almost everything we buy is a "stock" ingredient with multiple purposes.  But to make corn tortillas you need corn flour. I buy Maseca masa harina at WalMart.  It works fine and will last you forever.

Enough talk, now to the cooking.

Ingredients: Makes 8 6-inch tortillas.  Feel free to double or triple.

  • 1 C masa flour 
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 C liquid (water, corn stock, whey, etc)


  1. Measure out your dry ingredients into a mixing bowl.  Add your wet ingredients.  Mix.
  2. You'll end up with something the consistency of a very firm play-dough, or maybe high-quality plastic explosive.  Put this in the fridge for 15-30 minutes.  I should clarify for any NSA readers that I've never personally used C-4, I just watch people use it on Burn Notice.
  3. When you pull the dough out, you should be able to break off a piece of it in your hand.  Break off a golf-ball sized piece and roll into a ball.  Put dough-ball on a plate and repeat step 3 until there's no more dough.  If you did it right, you should have about 8 equally-sized pieces of dough.
  4. Get a quart ziplock bag and cut out the edges.  This will give you two 6x6 pieces of plastic.  Use these to keep your dough from sticking to your dough press.  Put 1 ball of dough between two sheets, put in press, and close press 95% of the way.  Open press, rotate tortilla 90%, and press the rest of the way.  You don't have to do it this way, but I find it gives me a slightly better shape and thickness than when I use a single press.  See the picture for the press, finished tortilla, and dough ready to press.
  5. Cook your tortillas as described above.  Press, 30 seconds, flip, 30 seconds, transfer, 30 seconds, flip, 30 seconds, and under the towel.  I don't use utensils for the flipping:  you should be able to do everything with bare hands.  You're only touching the tortilla, not the pan.
That's it.  I dare you to tell me that's not the best corn tortilla you've ever had.

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