How to Make Corn Tortillas

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!

Malcolm Bedell is co-author of the critically acclaimed “Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road,” as well as the taco-centric blog “Eat More Tacos,” and the junk food-centric “Spork & Barrel.” His contributions include Serious Eats, Down East, L.A. Weekly, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post and his food truck, “‘Wich, Please,” was named “Hottest Restaurant in Maine” for 2015 by Eater. Finally, he finds it very silly to be trying to write this in the third person.

24 Comments

    1. I would tell you the secret that, even after spending four years in Mexico and eating them constantly, I also wasn’t crazy about corn tortillas, either. Then, I would tell you that these will definitely, certainly change your mind.

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  1. It’s like you’re living in my head these days. I’ve been making these without a press for the last 3 months and finding it VERY frustrating. Got a good supplier? While your at it, do you have a good dried chiles supplier as well? Just moved to Portland from the midwest and am still trying to find my favorite latin products.

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    1. The IMUSA tortilla press came from eBay, as we could only find the tin or aluminum ones locally. They’re about $15 bucks. And no, I still have no great source for dried chiles. I have been paying $3 an OUNCE for dried anchos at Whole Foods, which is out-and-out crazy. Our friends at Edible Obsessions swear by La Bodega Latina, at 863 Congress Street, but we haven’t tried them yet.

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  2. Fresh tortillas are lovely, and fun to make with the kids.

    That said, if you’ve got to use pre-made, for whatever reason Shaw’s has a decent selection of Mexican products. You can’t get Guerrero, unfortunately, but you can get Ole, and they’re both miles better than Mission (which are heinous). Shaw’s also stocks Herdez which is one of the few pre-made salsas we like.

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  3. Hi – Thank you for the recipe. My husband and I LOVE mexican food and this post is the tipping point for me to finally get a tortilla press. Question: How to store these tortillas for later use and how long can I store them without compromising texture/flavor? Thanks!

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    1. I’ve never actually tried storing these. One of my favorite aspects of making tortillas at home is that, once you get the hang of it, you can make them on-the-fly while doing your other cooking. I’ve only ever made as many as I was ready to use for a given meal, which is one of the things I love. No wasted tortillas!

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      1. Hi Malcolm: I finally got around to making these, and you’re right! It’s so super simple for the reward of amazing fresh corn tortillas. I ate them with homemade huevos rancheros one lazy sunday morning, and had them again for dinner with ground beef tacos. I will never go back to store-bought again! One comment – you mentioned using 2 cups of water to 1 and 1/4 cup of masa. I found the directions on that Maseca brand to indicate 2/3 cup of water to 1 cup of masa, which worked perfectly for me. Thanks for inspiring me to make my own tortillas!

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        1. You’re so right! I flubbed that part of the recipe. Thank you for the correction. One of my favorite elements of making tortillas myself is that I can make exactly as many as I need, right when I need them. And yes, you’ll never go back to store bought!

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