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What Is a Comal?
A comal is a round, flat griddle with a smooth cooking surface and shallow edge that’s traditionally made from clay, though you can also find them made from heavy cast iron, carbon steel, or non-stick materials. A comal is used to char or toast spices and chiles, cook tortillas, sear meat, heat quesadillas, and more. Like its Indian cousin the tava, the comal has been a cookware staple throughout Mexico and Central America since as far back as 700 BCE (in South America, it’s called a budare). You can buy a comal in Latin grocery stores or online.
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 heats slowly and retains heat evenly, and a well-maintained comal imparts a subtle additional flavor to food.
How to Use a Comal
Use a comal as you would a cast-iron skillet or griddle pan, over medium heat on the stovetop.
Historically, comals were even used over open fires; you can mimic the effect by placing yours over grill grates. Here are some common uses for a comal:
- For reheating or cooking tortillas: Place pressed masa dough on the comal. Heat tortillas, flipping with 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 10–15 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.
- For toasting chiles for salsa and sauces: Place the dried chiles on the comal to char. Cook the peppers on either side until the skin softens slightly and begins to blister, about 2–3 minutes, then remove the chiles and place in a bowl or small pot of warm water to rehydrate.
- For making carne asada: When ready to cook, bring meat to room temperature and season with kosher salt and black pepper on both sides. Heat the comal over medium-high heat; when hot, drizzle a little cooking oil onto the surface and place the meat directly in the center of the pan where it’s hottest. Let the steak cook for 3–4 minutes each side. Transfer to a clean cutting board and let rest before slicing.
How to Season a Comal
Most cast iron comals come pre-seasoned, but if yours didn’t, it’s easy to do yourself. Here’s how.
- Clean the comal. Use warm, soapy water and dry well.
- Coat the comal in oil. Rub a tablespoon of vegetable oil over the entire surface of the comal, then place it in a 350°F oven for one hour.
- Wipe off excess oil. Remove the comal from the oven, let it cool, and wipe off any residue you see, then return to the oven and bake for another hour.
- Cool the comal. Place the comal on the stovetop and let it cool completely before using.
How to Care for a Comal
Clean and dry a comal between uses. Never stick a comal in the dishwasher; instead, wash your comal by hand and dry it thoroughly with paper towels to prevent rust buildup. Gently use steel wool to remove any tricky spots after cooking something like meat. If you’re using a clay comal, season it with water and cal (dry lime). If you’re using a cast iron comal, season it with vegetable oil for best results.
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