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What Is Masa Harina?
Masa harina is finely ground corn flour, or cornmeal, that comes together to form the masa dough. Not all masa harina is the same, just as all wheat flours are not the same: different corns are used for different preparations—starchier corns, for example, will make for a fluffier masa, while more fibrous corns lead to a heartier masa; one corn might be better suited to an atole (a hot masa-based drink) than a tortilla.
Where Can You Buy Masa?
You can usually buy fresh masa in any Latin market or grocery store in your city, typically in the refrigerated section and sold by the pound.
If you can’t find fresh masa, another option is to buy masa harina, ideally from organic corn that has been nixtamalized and dried, which you can mix with water to make a dough at home.
What Equipment Is Needed to Make Tortillas?
- A tortillero is a tortilla press traditionally made from wood, cast iron, or aluminum, that forms a ball of masa into a flat tortilla. The word tortillero can also refer to the small baskets used to keep fresh tortillas warm.
- A comal is a round griddle with a flat, smooth surface that’s traditionally made from clay (it’s also available in cast iron, carbon steel, or nonstick materials). Comals are used to char or toast ingredients, cook tortillas, sear meat, heat quesadillas, and more. They come in all different sizes—street vendors in Mexico may have comals that are several feet across, though comals between 18 and 24 inches are better suited to home cooks. A clay or cast-iron comal will heat slowly and retain heat evenly, and a well-maintained comal imparts a subtle additional flavor to food. Clean and dry a comal between uses, and season it with water and cal (if using clay) or oil (if using cast iron) for best results.
- To grind your own masa, you’ll need either a mechanical or hand-operated grinder, a small machine with a crank that is used to turn nixtamalized corn into masa. Like pasta machines, hand-operated grinders attach easily to most kitchen countertops. Mechanical corn grinders are larger and more expensive, usually used for commercial manufacture though some people have them in-home.
Homemade Corn Tortilla Recipe
Makes8 6-inch tortillas
Prep Time15 min
Total Time25 min
Cook Time10 min
Making tortillas are a repetition-based art—don’t be discouraged if your first few are imperfect. Just keep practicing.
- 260g fresh masa or masa harina
If you’re using fresh masa: Roll out the masa into 1-ounce balls and set aside on a sheet tray or plate beneath a damp kitchen towel so they don’t dry out.
If you’re using masa harina: Combine the masa harina and 1 cup of hot water in a large bowl and mix well. Continue adding water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and knead until the dough is smooth, thick, and slightly sticky, and holds together in a uniform dough when pressed. Roll masa into 1-ounce dough balls and set aside on a sheet tray or plate beneath a damp kitchen towel so they don’t dry out. Place a nonstick cast iron skillet or clay comal over medium-high heat on the stove.
- Place a sheet of non-stick plastic on the bottom of a tortilla press. (Don’t use plastic wrap, as it will stick; plastic bags or even banana leaves work well.) With clean hands, place one ball of dough in the middle of the press, then cover it with a second sheet of non-stick plastic. Press down firmly and evenly to flatten the dough. Open the press, remove the masa, and flip it over, pressing a second time to ensure it is even. The ideal tortilla is about 1/8 inch (3mm) thick. Alternatively, you can also use a rolling pin.
- Gently peel the tortilla off of the plastic and, using your fingertips, place it on the hot griddle or comal. Flip the tortilla using your fingers or a spatula as soon as you see that the edges are drying and turning opaque (about 30 seconds). When the tortilla starts blistering and rising slightly, flip it again (about 45 seconds). The tortilla should puff up after 10 to 15 seconds, a sign that all of the water has evaporated out of the masa, at which point it is ready to be removed from the heat.
- Repeat the pressing and cooking process with the remaining masa balls until all tortillas are done. The best way to keep tortillas warm and moist is to wrap them in a clean towel or cloth and store them in a tortillero (a woven basket). If you don’t have a tortillero, wrap stacks of hot tortillas in cloth and place them beneath the lid of a pot, inside of a cooler, or in a closed container (ideally with a hot stone in the bottom). Store tightly sealed in the refrigerator for up to three days, or freeze (fresh tortillas can be reheated without defrosting). If reheating tortillas from the refrigerator, sprinkle with a few droplets of water before placing them on the griddle to reheat; if coming from the freezer, this step is unnecessary.
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