Don’t get me wrong; I love New York and I love living here. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. The only downfall, as far as I’m concerned, is its lack of authentic Sonoran style Mexican food. I miss the deliciously marinated meats, some of the best carne asada in the United States, the thick tamales, unbelievable carnitas, and the amazing breakfast burritos. Arizona really does have incredible Mexican food and while I’ve had some great Latin food here in New York, it’s not quite what I’m looking for.
I wanted to make some really good Mexican food for this reason. I decided that I’d start with homemade tortillas, which I had never tried to do before. It was surprisingly easy! I had no idea how simple it was to make tortillas, and they paired perfectly with the best chicken tacos I’ve ever made (recipe to follow on Friday). Corn tortillas are, of course, made with corn flour (not to be confused with corn meal, which is completely different and not to be used in this recipe), which is called harina de maiz or masa harina. The word “tortilla” comes from the Spanish word “torta”, which means cake, so “tortilla” means little cake. Cute, right? You can use these corn tortillas in many, many dishes, such as tacos, tostadas, flautas, enchiladas, quesadillas, and sopes. Another great thing about corn tortillas is that they’re gluten-free! Go ahead and make them yourself. The aroma that these fresh corn tortillas make as they cook and the amazing, additive-free taste will really get you excited to create authentic Mexican dishes right at home.
Mix the water mixture and corn masa with a fork, then with your hands. Add a bit more water if necessary. The result should be sticky enough that everything stays together and that the mixture rolls into smooth balls for the tortillas, but not so sticky that it sticks to your hands in clumps. You can really play with the dough because if it dries out, add more water, if it’s too sticky, add more masa. You can’t mess it up like other kinds of dough!
Grab pieces of dough and roll them into balls about the size of a ping-pong ball and flatten as much as you can with the palm of your hand. If you have a tortilla press, great, but I don’t, so I had to do it the old fashioned way!
My method for flattening the dough into tortillas was to place the handmade disk in between two pieces of parchment or wax paper, or plastic wrap. Then, using a pot or pan with a bottom that is 6 or 7 inches in diameter, push down on the dough until it is a 5 or 6 inch tortilla. I found that rocking the pan back and forth and pushing down while turning the pot in a circular motion worked best. It’s really much easier and less ridiculous than it seems!
Place the uncooked tortillas on a paper towel and cook on a dry, pre-heated frying pan for 30 seconds on each side. Place the cooked tortillas on a paper towel or a cooling rack. Don’t be afraid to stack them; they won’t stick together.
- 2 cups harina de maiz or masa harina (NOT corn meal – look at the ingredients picture of the ingredients for more information)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1¼ cup hot water, plus another tablespoon or two if needed
- 1 teaspoon shortening
- In a small sauce pan, heat the 1¼ cup water with the 1 teaspoon of shortening. Heat over medium until the shortening it melted, smushing the shortening with the back of a spoon to speed up the melting process, as shortening has a high melting point.
- Combine the 2 cups of the harina de maiz (corn flour) with the teaspoon of salt. Pour in the warm water with the melted shortening and mix together with a fork, then use your hands to form the mixture into a dough. It should stick together and form smooth balls for the tortillas, but not be so sticky that it sticks to your hands in clumps. Unlike other doughs, you don’t have to worry about messing it up by playing with it too much. If it needs more water, go ahead and add it. If it needs more flour, go ahead and add it!
- Pinch off enough dough to form balls about the size of a ping-pong ball. Roll and then flatten as much as you can with the palms of your hands (see photos above). Place the dough between two pieces of wax paper, parchment paper, or plastic wrap, then with a pan or pot about 6 or 7 inches in diameter, press down on the dough to form a 5 or 6 inch tortilla (if you can press it out to 7 inches, more power to you, but I couldn’t get that to happen with my tools). I found that pressing down while twisting the pot/pan back and forth helped. Other methods include wiggling/rocking the pot/pan back and forth or simply pressing down with all of my weight, placing one hand inside of the pot/pan and the other on a corner. It really isn’t as hard or time consuming as it seems, it’s just a very specific method. You’ll get the hang of it after a few tortillas. Lay the uncooked tortillas on a paper towel or rack.
- Heat a dry (that means no non-stick spray, no oil, no nothin’) frying pan and cook the tortillas over medium heat for 20-30 seconds on each side. Under-cooking is better than overcooking, believe me. You can always heat it a bit more, but once it’s overcooked, it’ll be dry and won’t fold nicely with the fillings of your choice. Feel free to stack the cooked tortillas on one another, as they won’t stick together. Serve immediately with the filling of your choice (if you need to leave some out as you cook something else, lay a lightly damp cloth or paper towel over them so they don’t dry out) or allow to cool a bit, then store in an airtight container or sealable plastic bag. Makes 10-12 tortillas (I doubled my batch).
Thanks to my awesome sister-in-law for the use of her wonderful DSLR for this photos!