When it comes to tortillas, aficionados are divided into two distinct camps: flour or corn. Most often a single household will have to have both types of tortillas on hand, literally, to keep the peace. While both flour and corn tortillas are great, the biggest problem with corn tortillas is they tend to be dry, or once the package is opened, they get stale rather quickly if not used up right away. And sadly, they are often slightly stiff, or torn even when the package is just opened. It’s practically impossible to buy them in packages less than ten, and are prone to break when you are trying to fold them. In general, mass produced corn tortillas are a little bit of a let down.
So why not make your own? Making homemade corn tortillas is basically one of the easiest things you will ever do in the kitchen, and once you get the hang of it you’ll want to make dozens. But the beauty of it is you can make only as many as you need in a matter of minutes. No need to have any go to waste, or to freeze the unused discs, destined to be pushed further and further back to the nether regions of your freezer. And the difference in freshness and taste is like day and night.
Masa harina is the flour used to make corn tortillas. You’ve probably seen these bags with the large bright lettering, Masa harina is not a brand name per se, it literally is translated from the Spanish as “dough flour” and there are many companies that produce it. Masa harina is made by drying corn and then treating it in an alkali solution of limewater (calcium hydroxide). This process is called nixtamalization, the same process used to make hominy for grits
Nixtamalization removes the hulls from the corn kernels and softens up the corn, and the lime reacts with the corn, freeing up the nutrient rich niacin and allowing it to be readily absorbed into our digestive tract. Furthermore, we also get calcium from the limewater used in the process, as well as more amino acids and useable protein. Win win.And we didn’t even talk taste or texture yet! Rich, nutty, toasted corn falvour and aroma, hot off the pan, soft, pliable and tender because they were made only moments ago. To make eight tortillas approximately six inches in diameter, mix 1 cup of masa harina with about ¾ cup hot water and let it sit for anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. (you can do other prep work for your burritos or whatever recipe you are working on while the dough rests) Then work the dough with your hands for a minute or two, then form this into eight little “golf balls”
Make your tortillas one at a time; flatten the first golf ball between two pieces of plastic wrap or waxed paper by pressing down hard with a the bottom of a heavy frying pan, then use your rolling pin to roll the disc out to roughly six inches in diameter. Of course, you could always use a tortilla press!
Peel off the top piece of plastic wrap or wax paper and invert the tortilla into your hand. Peel off the other piece of wrap and place the tortilla in a hot, dry (un-oiled) cast iron pan. While the tortilla is cooking you can flatten the next tortilla. Let it cook for about a minute, then gently turn it over and let it cook for another minute. The tortilla will form air pockets and will puff up. When it is cooked, remove from pan and place on a warm plate and cover with a tea towel, and get to work on the next one! In no time you’ll get the hang of it and work out the timing so you are super efficient and have a little assembly line happening. Re-cover your little stack of tortillas with the tea towel each time; the steam will keep them warm and soft.
Now you can use the same pan to whip up your prepped veggies, and strips of steak, chicken or fish. After you master the super simple process of making your own corn tortillas, you will likely never go back to pre-made. Or flour, for that matter. Let peace and hominy reign!