I don’t want to get melodramatic here, but these are almost life-changing. Certainly dinner-changing, and especially taco-changing.
I have told you before about my quest for the best way to soften store-bought corn tortillas. My favorite method had to be effective and easy without adding a ton of fat. Fried tortillas are so good, but a significant amount of work, and obviously not healthy.
I tried heating them under a damp kitchen towel, which worked okay, but the tortillas could get soggy and limp. The best I’d found was to spray both sides of the tortillas with oil and bake them until pliable but not crisp. Besides the addition of some, although not a lot, of fat, my biggest problem with this was that the tortillas would occasionally get too crisp to fold, and sometimes would just get chewy.
Okay, so making fresh tortillas isn’t all that easy. But they’re so good – even as good as real deep-fried tortillas – and so healthy (no fat, whole grains), that I’ll spend the extra 15 minutes making them, even on a weeknight. If I only make enough for one meal, for the two of us, it isn’t so bad – just mix up two ingredients, maybe three if you want to add a pinch of salt, let it rest for a few minutes while you chop some taco fillings, roll it into balls, smash it with a tortilla press, sear it on a hot comal (or skillet) for a minute.
As soon as you mix the masa harina with water, the dough will smell like the best corn tortillas, before you even cook them. Once you add some smoky char from the hot pan, then wrap them around fillings while they bend without breaking, you’ll see what I mean about a dinner-changing experience. But considering how often we make tacos now and how much better they are, life-changing isn’t too far of a stretch for me.
Makes 8 tortillas
I confess I have some specialized tools for tortillas. The cleaning lady at my office gave me the comal; she had two and hates to cook. I’m sure a cast-iron skillet will work just fine. I haven’t tried making tortillas without a press, but supposedly you can smash them under a skillet. They won’t get as thin, but a thicker fresh tortilla is still better than anything you can buy. The last item isn’t so special – just a scale – but I’ve had much more consistent results with getting the dough to the right hydration with a scale than I did with measuring cups.
4 ounces (about ¾ cup) masa harina
5 ounces water
1. In a medium bowl, mix the three ingredients until large crumbles form, then bring the dough together into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside for ten minutes. Meanwhile, cut both sides of a gallon zip-top bag. Transfer the bag to a tortilla press with the crease of the bag at the hinge of the press.
2. Heat a not-nonstick skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat for at least 5 minutes.
3. Divide the dough into 8 equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball.
4. Place a ball onto the plastic-lined tortilla press, slightly off-center toward the hinge of the press. Press the tortilla just until it shows around the edges of the tortilla press. Open the press, peel the plastic wrap off the top of the tortilla, and invert the tortilla, still on the plastic, onto a towel. Slowly peel the plastic off of the tortilla. Replace the plastic in the tortilla press and repeat with the remaining balls of dough.
5. Transfer one tortilla to the hot pan; cook, without moving, until the tortilla bubbles and smokes, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Using a thin spatula, flip the tortilla; cook for another 15 to 30 seconds. Transfer the tortilla to a kitchen towel, wrapping it loosely. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, stacking them in the towel.
6. Let the tortillas sit in the towel to steam for a few minutes after the last tortilla is cooked, then serve. Kept wrapped, the tortillas will stay warm for about half an hour.