Homemade Tortillas

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Masa harina and my new tortilla press.

1 Masa harina and my new tortilla press.

Mixing the water with the masa and salt leaves the other hand free to take pictures or hold a beverage.

2 Mixing the water with the masa and salt leaves the other hand free to take pictures or hold a beverage.

Kneading the dough until it reaches a play-dough consistency.

3 Kneading the dough until it reaches a play-dough consistency.

TJ helps form the dough balls.

4 TJ helps form the dough balls.

Don't forget to line the press with plastic wrap and coat it with cooking spray.

5 Don't forget to line the press with plastic wrap and coat it with cooking spray.

Pressing down gently on the handle of the press.

6 Pressing down gently on the handle of the press.

A perfectly formed tortilla!

7 A perfectly formed tortilla!

After pressing the tortillas, half went into a pot for the next day, and half went to TJ to be fried into hard taco shells.

8 After pressing the tortillas, half went into a pot for the next day, and half went to TJ to be fried into hard taco shells.

Once cooked and pierced with a fork, the tortillas are fried into hard taco shells.

9 Once cooked and pierced with a fork, the tortillas are fried into hard taco shells.

TJ salts the just-fried taco shells.

10 TJ salts the just-fried taco shells.

Dozens of hard taco shells. The fried shells can be made a day ahead and heated in the oven for a few minutes so they crisp back up.

11 Dozens of hard taco shells. The fried shells can be made a day ahead and heated in the oven for a few minutes so they crisp back up.

A team of culinary enthusiasts (ok, fine, we just like to eat) from MSL and Emeril’s have been hosting monthly cook-off competitions — the theme of the first was chili, and for the second, everyone was asked to bring their signature dish. The competition has been heating up at these events, so when a Taco Cook-Off was announced, I knew I had to pull out all the stops. I began researching taco recipes (more on that later) but I knew that whatever I made HAD to be served in a homemade tortilla. I might have been intimidated by the thought of making my own tortillas, but I was emboldened by a recent tortilla-making how-to that Marc Matsumoto posted on twitter, and of course, motivated by the thought of taking the taco crown.

TJ Pitre, my friend, colleague, and cook-off cohort happened to have a near-full bag of masa harina, which is pretty much the only ingredient in tortillas, and I happen to have a brand-new tortilla press, so we teamed up to make a large batch. 7 large batches, in fact. The results were incredible in every way. I couldn’t believe how easy the tortillas were to make; we were adventurous enough to tackle both hard and soft shells. The hard shells were a little trickier, but after our 30th or so, we had all of the bugs worked out. They were so delicious and fresh, that I may not ever purchase packaged tortillas again.

Corn Tortilla Recipe, from norecipes.com:

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups masa harina
  • 1/2 tsp salt kosher salt (less if using table salt)
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water

Instructions:

  1. Mix the salt and masa harina then add the water.
  2. Mix the masa harina and water together with one hand. The tortilla dough will start out crumbly, but continue mixing it and it will start to come together. Knead it for 2 minutes.
  3. After kneading, the tortilla dough should have a smooth texture like play dough.
  4. Form the tortilla dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and let it sit for at least an hour.
  5. After the dough has had a chance to rest, it’s time to check the texture. Break off a small piece, roll it into a ball, then press it between your palms.
  6. If it forms cracks along the edges it’s too dry. Knead some more water into the dough a little bit at a time until it stays together.
  7. If the dough sticks to your palms it is too wet. Add more masa harina a little at a time until it doesn’t stick anymore.
  8. Split the dough in half 4 times to get 16 even pieces and roll them into balls (if you’re looking for an excuse to use your kitchen scale, the balls should be about 1.5 oz). Be sure to keep the tortilla dough covered with a damp paper towel while you work to keep them from drying out.
  9. Line your tortilla press with plastic wrap and coat the plastic with cooking spray so the delicate tortillas can be easily removed.
  10. Start preheating a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Place one of the dough balls on the tortilla press, and gently press the handle down. Applying too much pressure will force the dough out the sides of the press; instead, press gently at first to gague the necessary amount, you can always re-close the press and apply more pressure. The tortilla should be about 1/16″ in thickness. It will take some practice, but you can always reuse the dough from your mistakes.
  11. Gently lift the tortilla from the press. Move over to your preheated skillet and use a sweeping motion to move your hand out from under the tortilla being careful not to burn your hand.
  12. Flatten out any ruffles in the tortilla and cook while you press your next tortilla (about 1 minute). The tortilla is initially cooked on only one side and should not brown. Transfer it to a pot with a lid lined with paper towels. Repeat until the rest of the dough balls have been pressed and cooked on one side. You can do these steps ahead of time and store the half cooked tortillas in the fridge until you are ready to serve them. At this stage you can also deep-fry the tortillas to make hard taco shells or tortilla chips.
  13. When you’re ready to serve the tortillas, turn up the heat on the pan to medium high. Place a tortilla in the pan, uncooked side down. Gently press the tortilla with a wadded up paper towel. Once the tortilla has a few brown spots flip one last time and press on it some more. This will cause the steam escaping to blow the tortilla up like a balloon.
  14. The tortilla is done when it has ballooned up and is lightly toasted on both sides. Transfer to a paper towel lined pot with a lid to keep warm until they are all ready to serve.

Some tips to keep in mind:

The dough needs to rest for an hour before you can form the tortillas, so plan accordingly. This is a good time to make salsa.

Don’t forget to line the press with plastic wrap and cooking spray. Emeril’s Creamery Butter Spray worked just fine. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

This job can certainly be done alone. It works better with a friend, though, like most things, as well as a glass of wine. Or two.

If you’re frying your tortillas into hard taco shells, pierce the raw shell with a fork to prevent air bubbles when frying.

And if you do fry the shells, wear a an old shirt–your clothes will smell like fried tortillas afterward.

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