DIY Tortillas Make Top Tacos

Nothing kicks a taco from good to great like fresh, hand-made tortillas. 

Good luck finding those in our moonscape of Mexican cuisine. 

So, food-obsessed taco addict that I am, I did the next-best thing: fill my suitcase with packages of hand-made corn tortillas at Trader Joe's (if you didn't know, a sort of Costco for foodies) every time I made a trip to California. These thick, rustic, corn-y tortillas are great stuff, even after several months in the freezer. But last trip to California I couldn't get to Joe's for my fix, so I had a friend in San Francisco pick up a few packages and overnight them to me (they're very fresh and very, very perishable). 


I was sooo happy. . . until I got the bill--$12 for the tortillas

and $50 to have them shipped.  Now, I yield to no taco loco gringo when

it comes to great tortillas but $60+ for a half-dozen packages is just

too goddam much.  Why not, then, make my own?  I went to Amazon.com and

bought a tortilla press for 20 bucks, then to Publix for a bag of

Maseca corn masa. It took a couple-three tries to get the proportions

and technique right, but after that I could crank out enough tortillas

for a hearty dinner for two in about half an hour. It's as easy as

shooting fish off a log, and they taste even better than Trader Joe's. 

Here's a few tips I picked up along the way.

Making

tortillas is as simple as breathing--just mix masa, water and salt. The

recipe printed on the Maseca package is a good general guideline but

needs some tweaking. For one, you need to add at least two tablespoons

more water than it calls for, otherwise the tortilla dough is too dry

and cracks very easily. For another, it needs more salt, half again as

much as called for, or more if you've got a salt jones. For a third,

even though the recipe doesn't say to knead the dough before rolling it

out and forming it into individual balls, two to three minutes of

kneading produces lighter, less chewy tortillas. And for a fourth,

slipping plastic baggies over both sides of your tortilla press keeps

the tortillas from sticking and makes clean-up a cinch. 

If

you don't have a comal (I don't), the next best thing is a cast-iron

skillet. Get it good and hot--dry, no oil--then drop in a tortilla. Tap

it a few times with a spatula (one of those skinny fish spatulas is

ideal) until it puffs up a little, then cook for one minute, flip, cook

one minute more and repeat until you've cooked through your stack. (One

cup of masa with 2/3 a cup plus 2 tablespoons of water and ½ teaspoon

of salt produces eight perfect five- to six-inch tortillas.)

When

you're ready to start making tacos, you can steam or fry your gorgeous,

incredibly tasty tortillas. Or go quick 'n' easy--nuke 'em in a tightly

sealed plastic bag for one minute. Just be careful you don't stick your

hand in there until the steam blows off or you'll be eating boiled

finger tacos for dinner. 

But, honestly, home-made tortillas are so good even those would be edible.


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