Thursday, 8 November 2012

Review of Cool Chile Company Tortillas

Some Cool Chile Company tortillas, with a few of their friends

Being MexiGeek, I do a lot of labour-intensive cooking. I don't buy tins of chopped tomatoes. I buy fresh tomatoes, asar-roast them, and bash the living hell out of them in my molcajete.

I don't buy ground spices like cumin, clove, and cinnamon. I buy whole seeds or sticks, toast them in a pan until they release their fragrance, and then grind them by hand in my molcajete. (I don't own a spice grinder.)

And I make my own corn tortillas, which takes forever.

But I'm a MexiGeek. That's just what I do. What if you want to eat Mexican food and you don't want to spend your whole night cooking and then eat dinner at 10pm?

When I arrived in the UK in 2001, I couldn't find corn tortillas, even at Mexican restaurants. But now that supermarkets are selling disgusting polenta/wheat flour hybrid things as "corn tortillas", I feel it's my duty to steer my readers in the right direction.

Because you can now get real corn tortillas here in the UK: just order them from the Cool Chile Company.

First a bit of background on Triple C.

The Cool Chile Company began importing dried chiles from Mexico into the UK in the early 1990s. Many, many Mexican recipes call for dried chiles, so they're an essential part of authentic Mexican cuisine. Also, because of the historical ties to India, most fresh chillies available in the UK are Asian varieties. CCC were one of the first (if not the first to make Mexican chiles available in Britain.

Honestly, I could not cook without these guys.

In 2005 they brought in the UK's first ever tortilla press (which they named "Lupita") and began making the UK's first (as far as I know) ever real Mexican corn tortillas. Demand has grown, so Lupita has been replaced by El Monstruo ("the Monster"), which makes 3,500 tortillas an hour.

You can order these tortillas online. They ship anywhere in the UK and Europe.

By the way, I don't know these guys personally. I learned this from their website, which I visit frequently.

I've bought these tortillas a few times. They're a real lifesaver when you want tacos but can't be bothered spending the two hours or so it takes to make a homemade batch.

So how good are they? Well, consider I basically fisked the sub-par Old El Paso tortillas, I feel I should be systematic.

Appearance. Professional. They are perfectly round and just the right colour (because they are made from real masa harina (and not polenta like some commercial brands). Basically, if you placed these next to any of the commercial brands in North America, you could not tell the difference.

Taste. Spot. On.

This is exactly what tortillas are meant to taste like (I should also add that the inviting smell of proper tortillas greets you when you open the pack).

You have to reheat them before using (helpful instructions are on the package). Corn tortillas need to be warm to unlock their flavour. Also, because corn is gluten-free, a cold tortilla cannot be folded like a flour one can.

Texture. Again, spot on, because these are made from just masa harina and water. They have a uniform thickness and when warm they fold easily without falling apart (very important for tacos).

Usefulness. The Cool Chile Company actually sells two kinds of tortilla: soft ones for tacos (the kind I bought) and "frying tortillas", which are a bit coarser and are for making tostadas and totopos (tortilla chips).

I used the soft tortillas for my tacos de carnitas de pollo, and they worked brilliantly as expected. The next day for a snack I heated a tortilla up, put some cheese in it, folded it and finished it off on a hot dry frying pan before drowning it in chile sauce: a rough quesadilla. It was so good I had to make another right away.

And although they don't recommend you fry these tortillas, I found they worked perfectly for baked totopos:

Cut the tortillas into wedges (I used a pizza-cutter).

Preheat the oven to 150° C.

Grease a baking sheet and lay the tortilla wedges on it.

Using a pastry brush, brush them with some oil (I used olive oil, to keep them as healthy as possible).

Then bake for 15-20 minutes. Keep an eye on them so they don't burn. They will continue to crisp a bit as they cool.

Sprinkle lightly with salt as soon as they're our of the oven. These are way more delicious and much healthier than crisps.

So are there any negatives?

Well, as with all professional, machine-made tortillas, they lack the charming irregularity of homemade tortillas. Also, commercial tortillas like these are never slightly charred, they way homemade ones often are.

Also, because these are made from masa harina instead of masa, conventional wisdom holds that you can't use them for enchiladas or chilaquiles, though I actually made chilaquiles with my baked totopos and found they worked fine.

In any case, these aren't really negatives. There's nothing like a fresh homemade tortilla. But if you want it you're gonna work for it. With these on hand, you can have tacos as an easy mid-week meal, instead of a big production thing you have to leave for the weekend.

Bottom line. I really can't fault these. They are, as far as I know, the only authentic corn tortillas available in the UK. It's this or homemade.