I’ll eat Mexican off the truck, or I’ll eat at La Cocina if I don’t have my glasses on, but I really prefer my own Mex cooking. Once I learned how to make my own corn and flour tortillas, I have lost my taste for store bought.
Corn tortillas are so easy – you buy “masa” at the store – finely ground corn flour – most stores carry it. You add water and salt in correct proportions – and if you add too much, you just add more masa! Then you grab a little piece of dough and roll it into a ball, and flatten it out – it’s nice to have a tortilla press – I got mine for about $16 from Amazon.com. You can use your hands or a rolling pin, but both take more practice. When you heat these clay-like disks on a skillet, they turn into a “little cake,” soft and pliable to wrap around your choice of fillings. I like chicken cooked in salsa verde.
Flour tortillas take a little more time – you want to make the dough a couple if hours ahead and let it sit. But, simple ingredients – flour, lard or Crisco, salt and water. For a small batch, I use about a cup and three quarters flour, a quarter cup of Crisco, and a teaspoon of salt dissolved in a half cup of hot tap water. My recipe says, “not lukewarm, not scalding” – I say, when it gets uncomfortable to hold your wrist under the tap, it’s good.
Sift the flour a couple of times before you measure it. This recipe actually calls for weighing the flour, the author is fussy, but I’ve found sifting it good and being light of hand when you measure is fine. I have tried whole wheat flour – but I don’t add more than a tablespoon or two per cup of white flour because it seems to inhibit the rising process and make the tortillas flat and greasy if you use too much whole wheat.
Like biscuits, this recipe starts with rubbing the shortening into the flour. Then you dissolve the salt in the hot tap water – I put the salt in the cup first and then add the water. Then slowly add the water as you mix with your other hand. Once you’ve gathered it up, knead it like bread dough. If it’s sticky, keep flouring your hands until the dough stops sticking to your hands – don’t add flour to the dough, you’ll get too much. After three or four minutes of kneading, it should form a nice smooth ball that doesn’t stick to anything. Then I put it in the bowl with a produce bag pulled over the top and let it sit for about two hours. I’m guessing this allows the gluten to process and make the dough stretchy and elastic.
When it’s sat long enough I divide it into 12 little balls. This is important – if you divide them evenly, you will get the right size to cook well. If they’re too big they don’t cook very well, I find.
You take your little ball and flatten it between your hands, then set it on a very lightly floured board. You roll it out from the center in each direction with your roller, and within a few seconds, you have a perfect little tortilla. This goes on your hot skillet. It takes about two minutes on each side. Watch it, or you will scorch it. But, even the scorched ones are better than store bought. When I’m making a big batch we take the scorched ones off the skillet, add cheese and roll them into a flauta – one, two, three bites and it’s gone.
The author recommends making these ahead, and reheating later. They keep well for a day or so, wrapped in a paper towel and a produce bag, at room temperature. We had chicken burritos last night, this morning we’ll have the leftover tortillas with eggs. Huevos Rancheros, mis amigos!