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.
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.
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.)
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.