Wednesday, 30 January 2013

How I learned to use a tortilla-press

I got a tortilla-press for Christmas. From "Santa". Also called mi suegra. Which means "mother-in-law".

The good news is I will be making more tortillas from now on.

The bad news is this will probably put the kibosh on learning to roll pastry. (Previously I have been rolling out tortillas, pastry-style, inside a ziploc bag).

I've written about tortillas several times before, but this time I took lots of pictures. So let's do this again.

First, a refresher for the uninitiated:

Tortillas are little Mexican flatbreads made of masa, which is white field corn soaked in slaked lime until the hulls of the kernels come off. (This is called being nixtamalized.)

Then you grind the corn into a dough on a metate, which is one of these:

I don't have one of these. Photo from the Simon Fraser University Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

If you dry this dough and pulverise it you get masa harina, which looks like wheat flour but smells like corn.

(Flour tortillas, which you can buy anywhere in the UK, are characteristic of Northern Mexico and the United States.)

The first time I ever made tortillas, they were technically panuchos: Yucatecan tortillas stuffed with refried beans.

I made these because I had no tortilla press and panuchos benefit from being a bit thicker than standard tortillas.

I hand-patted the panuchos into shape the way I'd seen in the film El Norte. It worked, but the panuchos weren't very round.

Later I tried rolling my tortillas out with a rolling pin. This just about worked, but I suck at pastry-rolling, so I never managed a regular shape for these ones either.

They tasted great. Which is just as well.

Worse was I never got an even thickness.

And because The Cool Chile Company sells excellent tortillas, I was on the verge of giving up making my own.

Then I got this.

Hecho en Mexico. Hell. Yes.

So the other morning I got up and made some tortilla dough. As you do:

Tortilla dough from masa harina
250 g masa harina
300 ml hand-hot water
A tbsp olive oil
Combine the ingredients in a mixing bowl, knead for ten minutes, then rest at room temperature covered by a damp cloth for 30 minutes.
Once that was done I heated up a dry frying pan to medium-high, took a golf-ball sized chunk of dough and put it on my tortilla press.

First you must always put a clean sheet of plastic over the bottom of the tortilla press. This stops the dough sticking to the plates.

Dig the Turkish coffee in the background. MexiGeek is a man of many tastes.
Then you put the ball of dough down, slightly off-centre (nearer the hinge end), and cover with another sheet of plastic. I used a ziploc bag cut into its two halves.

Now, the trick to flattening your tortilla is applying gentle pressure.

First close the hinge and press down with your hand slowly until it won't give anymore.

Then gently tighten with the bar: just one or two little tugs.

Do not use too much force, as Doug Bell from Lupe Pinto's warned me, or the handle will snap.

Easy does it.

If your dough ball was the right size, you will end up with a perfectly round tortilla about 2 mm thick.


Once your frying-pan comal has heated up, lay your tortilla in the pan and cook for about 30 seconds.

This is a gringo-style comal.

Flip it over with a spatula and cook 12-15 seconds more.

Then flip it one more time, gently press down on the middle with your spatula, and the tortilla should puff up.

If it doesn't puff, it's not the end of the world, but you'll need to master puffing if you want to make panuchos.

Once the tortilla has puffed, wrap it in a clean, dry cloth to keep it warm, then keep making more tortillas until you run out of dough.

I find I can make about 12 tortillas with this recipe.

There are only ten here, because I ate two. Also, no warm cloth. We'll call that a continuity error.

Ideally tortillas should be served right away, but you can make them in advance and reheat them by steaming them in a cloth for one minute. Or by reheating each one individually on the comal until it gets soft and pliable (my preferred way, actually).

Jeez, I need to write some shorter posts!