Thursday, 6 June 2013

Blue Corn Tortillas (tortillas azules)

A basket of fresh tortillas azules

If there's one thing I've been dying to make for years, it's blue corn tortillas.

In the UK (and, to be fair, in much of the US), you get one kind of corn: yellow "sweetcorn". But corn, miraculous mother of life that it is, comes in several varieties - and colours - each with their own individual characteristics.

Yellow corn is high in sugar and water, while white corn (the main variety in Mexico) is less sweet and very starchy - which makes it ideal for tortillas and their "relatives" (like sopes, panuchos, etc).

But while white corn is the main variety in Mexico, it is by no means the only one. A fresh, warm white corn tortilla is a beautiful thing, but a blue corn tortilla is a delicacy.

The only place to get blue masa harina (blue corn tortilla "flour") in the UK is from Mexgrocer.

My Mexican Shop in Dublin occasionally stocks it as well.

I ordered a kilo bag of Maseca Azul (an actual Mexican brand, by the way) from Mexgrocer and whipped up a batch of blue corn tortillas.

I had eaten blue corn before, but I had never cooked with it.

However, I found no indication that it had to be treated differently than white corn, so I used my usual recipe for tortillas (adapted from Lupe Pinto's):

  • 250 g (blue) masa harina
  • 300 ml hand-hot water

My wife thought it looked like sand

Ever since I read Thomasina Miers' Mexican Food Made Simple I have occasionally added a tablespoon of olive oil to my tortilla dough. It stops the dough drying out and makes it easier to work with.

However, it also imparts a faint olive oil flavour, and I wanted the full-on blue corn experience, so I left it out this time.

Anyway, you mix the masa harina and the water (by hand), knead it for ten minutes, then let it rest at room temp for half an hour.

"It doesn't look like an actual foodstuff" - Mrs MexiGeek

I kept some extra hand-hot water nearby in case the dough dried out too much (which it did; add extra water a spoonful at a time until the consistency comes back to normal).

Then you take a chunk of the dough about the size of a golf ball and either roll it out with a rolling pin between two sheets of plastic or pop it into your tortilla press (which you can also buy from Mexgrocer or Lupe Pinto's), again, between two sheets of plastic.

Either way, you're looking for a thickness of about 2 mm.

Cook the tortillas on a hot dry frying pan for 30 seconds on one side; then flip and cook for 10 seconds; then flip again, press down gently on the tortilla with your spatula, wait for it to puff, and it's done.

Don't worry if it doesn't puff; it will still be delicious.

The first thing I noticed is that, while white corn masa harina has a similar texture to white flour, the blue version is speckled and grainy.

The dough, too, had a grainier texture than white corn dough, and seemed more prone to drying out.

And the uncooked tortillas were more fragile and harder to peel off the plastic sheets in my tortilla press. I even had to reform one or two of them into balls and start again.

But the flavour was well worth it.

Blue corn is sweeter than white corn, though not nearly as sweet as yellow corn. Some people think it has a nutty taste; personally I detect some floral notes.

And to top it off, there's the surreal experience (for most people) of eating a naturally blue food other than blueberries.

Speaking of blue, one thing that took me by surprise was Mrs MexiGeek's reaction to the colour.

She agreed the tortillas were delicious, but found the colour challenging. I guess if you haven't grown up with multicoloured corn, blue tortillas may seem a bit "weird".

My three-year-old daughter, who has fewer preconceived notions about food, absolutely loved the blue tortillas. She had seconds!

Another caveat is that this it's kind of an "advanced corn". I wouldn't make blue corn my introduction to homemade tortillas.

Served with pollo en salsa de cacahuates

If you haven't used "normal" white masa harina before, I'd get a bag of that first.

Make a batch or two of tortillas. Make some tamales. Get used to masa harina as an ingredient. Then, when you feel confident, move on to blue masa.

You'll be amazed at how diverse corn can be.

They make great tortilla chips too!