If you’ve never made your own tortillas, you won’t believe how out of wack the effort-to-payoff ratio is. They are dead simple to make, and so vastly superior to anything you can find in the store, that you’ll wonder how you ever bought them ready-made. In Mexico, tortillas this delicious are the main course, providing the essential nutrients for the day, with everything else considered a side dish. Whether served warm wrapped around your favorite meats and vegetables, or fried and used as chips or tostadas, corn tortillas are such a simple staple, that you may find yourself eating them with every meal. Or at least, slathered in butter, standing over the sink. Here’s how it’s done:
1. Maseca, or corn flour, is available at many mainstream grocery stores. Depending on your area, you may have to venture into a Hispanic market in order to find it. Maseca is corn that has been treated with lime, ground, skinned, and dehydrated, resulting in a product called Maiz Nixtamalizado. Working with this instant masa couldn’t be simpler: Combine 2/3 of a cup of warm water with 1 1 /4 cups of maseca in a large bowl.
2. Try and combine the mixture into a dough ball. If your dough looks like the picture above, you need more water; try adding it a tablespoon or two at a time until the dough starts to come together.
3. When you can form the dough into a ball, as above, it is ready. Cover and let it sit for 10 minutes, to finish absorbing all the water.
4. Line your tortilla press with a plastic bag that has been cut in half, to keep the dough from sticking. A word about tortilla presses: Get one. While you can make tortillas by pressing your dough between two pans, the process is much more time consuming, difficult, and inconsistent. Try to find a tortilla press of the cast iron variety; plastic is worthless, wood rots, and tin isn’t heavy enough. Place about a ball of dough (about 1 1/2 teaspoons) on the press, closer to the hinge, since the press will flatten the dough from the hinge>outward.
5. Swing the clamp arm over, and press down. Hard. Don’t worry about the plastic bunching up where the handle meets the plates of the press.
6. Open the tortilla press, and turn the tortilla over into your hand. Try to remove the plastic from the tortilla, rather than the other way around, as they are very thin and fragile. If you are getting lots of tears, wrinkles, or uneven thickness, try substituting squares of parchment paper for the plastic lining on the tortilla press.
7. Place pressed, raw tortillas in a stack on the edge of your work surface. Don’t stack more than about a dozen at a time, or their own weight will start to press them together.
8. Place tortillas on a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. If you have a big enough skillet, you can cook two or three tortillas at a time; we only have this little pancake pan, so we’re cooking them one at a time. Cook tortillas for one minute on each side.
9. As your tortillas finish, stack them loosely in a cotton dishtowel and keep covered. The collected heat and steam will finish cooking your tortillas, and make them soft, pliable, and delicious.
Serve finished tortillas at once, or reheat by returning to the pan for 20-30 seconds per side just before serving, or alternately, wrap stack in foil and heat in oven. For chips, cut into triangles and fry in hot oil until brown. Enjoy, and say goodbye to store-bought tortillas forever!