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Tortillas de Maíz (Corn Tortillas)

  • SERVINGS: Makes 15
  • VEGETARIAN

Now, Rick Bayless doesn't expect you (or him) to make fresh-baked corn tortillas for everyday dinners. But he does want to arm you with the know-how for that special moment when the full, fresh-baked Mexican experience is all that will satisfy. After all, fresh-baked corn tortillas are, like fresh-baked bread, one of the greatest pleasures of life. And like authentic French bread, corn tortillas go stale just hours after being griddle-baked (neither French bread nor Mexican tortillas contain any moisture-preserving fat). So at least once, have the full experience. When you've got time to track down the fresh-ground corn masa (or powdered masa harina) and lay your hands on a tortilla press.

The rest of the time, he's got these suggestions: (1) Buy corn tortillas that are made by a local tortillería if at all possible—they're typically fresher, made in an authentic fashion and often have no preservatives. (2) Store them in the refrigerator for no more than a few days—freezing tortillas can often lead to brittle, dried out tortillas, or ones that have gotten mushy around the edge because of moisture condensation. (3) If the tortillas have been made that day, you can quickly reheat them one at a time on a dry griddle or skillet (or even over a low direct flame as many of my Mexican friends do); otherwise steam heat them in a microwave or vegetable steamer as described on.

  1. 1 3/4 cups masa harina or 1 pound fresh smooth-ground corn masa for tortillas
  1. If using powdered masa harina, measure it into a bowl and add 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot tap water. Knead with your hand until thoroughly combined. Cover and let stand 15 minutes. If using fresh masa, scoop it into bowl. Break up and knead a few times until smooth.
  2. Set a large griddle (one that stretches over 2 burners) or 2 skillets on your stovetop. Heat one end of the griddle (or one skillet) to medium, the other end (or other skillet) to medium-high.
  3. Gently squeeze dough. If it is stiff (it probably will be), knead in water 1 or 2 teaspoons at a time until the dough feels like soft cookie dough—not stiff, but not sticky. Divide into 15 pieces, rolling each into a ball. Cover with plastic.
  4. Cut 2 squares of plastic bag 1 inch larger than your tortilla press. Open the press and lay in one piece of plastic. Lay a dough ball in the center, and gently mash it. Top with the second piece of plastic and close press. Using the press's lever, gently flatten the dough into a 1/8-inch-thick disk. Peel off the top piece of plastic.
  5. Flip the tortilla onto your right hand (if right-handed)—the top of the tortilla should line up with the side of your index finger. Now, gently roll it onto the side of the griddle (or skillet) heated to medium: Let the bottom of the tortilla touch the griddle, then lower your hand slightly and move it away from you—the tortilla will stick to the hot surface so you can roll your hand out from under it as it rolls down flat.
  6. After about 30 seconds, the edges of the tortilla will dry slightly and the tortilla will release from the griddle—before this moment, the tortilla will be stuck. With a metal spatula (or calloused fingers), flip the tortilla onto the hotter side of the griddle (or hotter skillet).
  7. After about 30 seconds, the tortilla should be lightly browned underneath. Flip it over. Cook 30 seconds more—the tortilla should puff in places (or all over—a gentle press with metal spatula or fingers encourages puffing). Transfer to a basket lined with a napkin or towel.
  8. Press and bake the remaining tortillas. Stack each newly baked tortilla on the previously baked ones. Keep the tortillas well wrapped to keep warm.
Notes

Maseca brand masa harina is widely available in well-stocked groceries and Mexican markets. Smooth-ground corn masa is available almost exclusively from tortilla factories—make sure they're grinding it from whole corn rather than reconstituting the powdered masa, which you can do yourself

Reheating Corn Tortillas: With a microwave oven Dribble 3 tablespoons water over a clean kitchen towel, then use it to wrap your cold tortillas. Slide the package into a microwaveable plastic bag and fold it over—don't seal. Microwave at 50% power for 4 minutes to create a steamy environment around tortillas. Let stand for 2 or 3 minutes before serving. Without a microwave oven Set up a vegetable steamer (it can't have that little post sticking up). Pour about 1/2 inch of water in the bottom. Wrap the cold tortillas—no more than 12—in a clean kitchen towel. Lay the package in the steamer, set the lid in place and set the pot over high heat. When steam comes puffing out, set a timer for 1 minute. Turn off the heat and let the tortillas sit in their steamy world for 10 minutes. That's when they're ready.

Copyright 2005 Rick Bayless, Mexican Everyday, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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