Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Forgotten No More: Tortillas de Maíz

I begin with tortillas de maíz (corn tortillas) because one of my fondest childhood memories is watching my mother press and cook them and thinking "I could do that!" And yet it was only last year before I ever made them. I could blame it on the convenience of store bought, but truthfully it was one of those skills--a piece of my heritage--that I let fall away . . . forgotten. Now, they are forgotten no more.

La Receta (The Recipe)
Corn masa

(I know, only three ingredients; how hard can this be?)

But there's also "hardware" that you will need: a tortilla press and a comal (griddle):
tortilla press
comal (griddle)

There are several steps before mixing masa ingredients. First, you must prepare the tortilla press. If you've just bought one, you may have to attach the handle and even oil it some. But once it is assembled (see above picture), you will want to get a plastic sandwich- or quart-sized bag. Cut off the top and cut along the sides and bottom of the bag. What you will be left with are two pieces of plastic (the sides of the bag); you can even cut the pieces round to slightly overlap the edges of the press. Using the plastic helps keep the press clean and is also easier to remove the pressed tortillas to place on the comal. I suggest the plastic bags because they are sturdier than plastic wrap and can be used repeatedly (once wiped clean).
plastic to cover the press
Next, heat the comal on a low heat for a couple of minutes. Then oil the comal. I put oil (vegetable, canola, whatever's on hand) on a paper towel and rub the paper towel over the comal. Keep this paper towel handy because you will use it to grease the comal every other cooked tortilla so that they do not stick.

oiling the comal
oiled comal

If you look at the back of the bag, there are directions for making the masa (dough) for the number of tortillas wanted (and in some cases, as in this bag of Maseca, how to make the tortillas). 

back of the bag
WARNING: If you follow the exact measurements for the water and salt, you will find that your tortillas are much too dry and not flavorful in the slightest. What the bag offers are guidelines.

Absolutely use the measurements for the masa itself; the water and salt you will have to adjust.

To start, use a big bowl to mix all the ingredients thoroughly. For example, the batch I made was for 16 tortillas, which means I started with 2 cups of masa.

Measure the suggested 1 1/3 cup of water, add half of it to the masa, then add 1/4 tsp of salt, and mix well. At this point, the masa will still be too dry and there will still be unmixed dry masa (see picture).

masa with half the water
Add the remaining 2/3 cups of water to the masa, add another 1/8 to 1/4 tsp of salt, and mix well. Even after adding the full 1 1/3 cups of water, the masa will still be too dry and will need more water.

Add water slowly to the masa and mix well. For example, I added another 1/4 cup of water to the masa a little bit at a time so that the dough maintained its consistency. WARNING: If you add too much water, the masa will be sticky; it will stick to the press and even to the comal. The entire batch will be unusable unless you add more masa and salt. So be careful with the water from the start.

Continue to mix water into the masa until it reaches a moist, not wet, consistency and will roll into a large ball of sorts. You can even make small balls of dough for each tortilla before you begin pressing. I have found that the 2 cups of masa makes more than 16 tortillas.
mixed masa
balls of masa

With the comal preheated and one plastic sheet on the bottom of the press, it is time to begin pressing tortillas and cooking them. Take a ball of masa, place it on the plastic on the press, press it with your hand so it is flat, and then place the second piece of plastic over it. The masa should be between the two pieces of plastic before the press is closed.
masa on plastic

flattened masa, ready to press

Close the lid on the press, then take the handle and and move it across the press, pushing down so that the tortilla is flattened. Move the handle back, open the top of the press, and you will have a flattened tortilla that is ready for the comal. Take the top plastic off of the tortilla, put the tortilla (masa side) on your hand and remove the bottom piece of plastic from the tortilla to get ready to place on the comal. If you have not been able to tell before if the masa is too sticky, you will be able to tell when you try to remove it from your hand because it will stick.

removing tortilla from plastic
pressed tortilla

Place the tortilla on the comal for about 30 seconds, and then flip. I use my hands, but if you're worried about burning yourself, you can use a spatula. Then cook the other side of the tortilla for about 30 to 45 seconds more. Then put the cooked tortillas in a tortilla warmer, if you have one, or put in foil (like I do) and keep it as closed up as much as possible so that the tortillas retain their warmth.
stack of cooked tortillas
cooked side of tortilla

And that's it. Enjoy the tortillas alongside a meal or by themselves.

However, I will warn you that once you bite into a homemade corn tortilla you and your family will accept no substitute; this means that if you're making enchiladas, be prepared to make all the tortillas as well.

Let me know if you try this and how it goes. I'm always here to answer questions.

Hasta la proxíma vez!


  1. I hope you saved some for me! :) dammit, more my mouth is watering!

  2. only THREE ingredients?! I definitely need to try these.