Chicago is home to several vibrant Latino neighborhoods, some predominantly of Mexican heritage. It follows that there is hardly any shortage of sources for Mexican ingredients. There are even several tortillerias open to the public that produce freshly made tortillas by the truckload and buying from these factories is easily the best option — the turnover will be high and the tortillas will be at their freshest. Since tortillas stale quickly, most store-bought varieties are pumped full of preservatives and could have been on the shelf for weeks.
It’s one thing to cook labor-intensive Mexican dishes in a city home to excellent Mexican restaurants — the options range from humble street food and taquerias to fine-dining establishments with elaborate tasting menus. New heights of obsessiveness are reached when one also makes the simple but somewhat finicky tortillas at home.
Considering that I can walk out my door and come back in a few minutes with a bag of passable tortillas, I can think of only one good reason to justify making these at home. Once the pressed masa sizzles on the hot comal, the familiar roasted corn aroma screams, “We’re having Mexican for dinner.” The next thought could be, “Time for margaritas,” or perhaps, “Prepare to ingest copious amounts of pork fat,” but in any case, good eating will undoubtedly follow. You can’t get that comforting scent from store-bought.
Corn Tortillas using Masa Harina
Tortillas de Maíz
makes approximately 15 tortillas
a tortilla press
2 pieces of wax paper, cut as wide as your tortilla press
a comal or heavy skillet, preferably cast iron
For the Tortilla Masa:
1 3/4 cup masa harina (7 1/2 ounces / 210 grams)
1 cup + 2 tablespoons hot water (9 ounces / 265 grams)
- I use Maseca masa harina to make homemade tortillas. Ensure that the corn flour is not labeled masa harina para tamales — it is a much coarser grind and will be unsuitable for making tortillas.
- Consider the water amount a minimum starting point. The dough may be a bit on the dry side but adjustments can be made when dividing the masa into balls (see below).
To Prepare the Masa:
Mix the masa harina with the hot water and knead until smooth and evenly incorporated. Let the dough rest in a sealed container for about 1/2 hour to allow the corn flour to fully hydrate.
Divide the dough into 15 golf ball sized pieces and roll using the palms of your hands. The balls of masa should be seamless. If you are having difficulty closing the seams with light rolling, the dough is too dry. Apply just enough water to moisten your palms and roll the masa again to close the seams, repeating as needed.
Cover the divided masa with plastic wrap or a moist cloth.
To Cook the Tortillas:
Heat an ungreased comal over medium heat. Line the bottom plate of the tortilla press with wax paper place a ball off-center towards the hinge. Place the second piece of wax paper on top of the ball and flatten slightly with your palm.
Gently place the top plate on top of the wax paper and press down firmly using the lever.
gratuitous hairy veiny forearm shot
Open the press and gently peel off the wax paper on top.
no cracked edges please
Gently lift the bottom piece of wax paper and place on the finger of the opposing hand, tortilla side down, such that the edge of the tortilla is slightly dangling from your pinky finger. Peel off the wax paper and hope that the tortilla stays in one piece.
Let the dangling edge of the tortilla catch the surface of the hot comal and gently slide off your fingers.
don’t burn your knuckles
The tortillas are done shortly after puffing up, but it takes a few flips to wake up, much like a roommate with a bad hangover passed out on your couch. Cook the tortillas on one side for about 20 seconds. The tortilla should release easily from the comal after this time. Flip and cook for about 40 seconds, and flip again to cook for another 20 seconds. The tortilla will puff up after the second flip and will be slightly blistered on both sides.
Stack the tortillas as they are cooked in a basket or bowl lined with cloth.