I spent a couple of days over the Easter Holidays in Galway City during the Galway Food Festival this year. This was my first time attending the festival and was delighted when I got invited to do a demonstration at the Visiting Chefs' Area. The theme of the festival was Food and Community, and feeling it was most appropriate, I decided to talk a little bit about Mexican Masa (the dough we make tortillas from) and show the gorgeous things you can make with it....
As many of you know, I come from a family of tortilla bakers of three generations. Growing up, I spent time with my grandpa Pedro learning the ins and outs of tortilla baking the traditional way. My own father, also a Pedro, had a couple of tortilla bakeries too and up to his retirement, we all worked at one time or another in the family business. Although I ran a mile away from the tortilla baking business as soon as I had the chance, the lessons learnt were not wasted and when I moved to Ireland, I was quick to remember all those tips my granddad and my dad taught me. Once a tortilla baker, always a tortilla baker dad would say!
These days, I can talk about masa until your ears bleed. It's an amazing thing! My grandad used to say that masa was alive, and until I came to Ireland and made tortillas by hand, I understood what he really meant by this. It is gluten free, super low in calories and although there is no raising agent in it at all, it rises during the cooking process.
Because masa is made of nixtamalised corn it is very, very nutricious. Nixtamalised corn is corn that has been soaked and cooked in an alcaline solution that breaks the hull that surrounds the corn kernel (that awful little skin that usually sticks in between your teeth when you're eating corn in the cob and that otherwise it is practically impossible for our bodies to digest) and it turns it into fiber, allowing our digestive system to process the corn and to have full access to its nutritional value.
Masa-Harina, which is the dihidrated verstion of masa is easier to work with in a domestic environment and it makes the tortilla making process much more approachoable at home. The blue variety we sell at Picado is great and it makes super tasty tortillas. Although the ones I demonstrated at the Galway Food Festival resisted to rise (mainly cos I didn't have hot water at hand), they were tasty and gave everybody the idea of how easy making tortillas at home is.
The press is a bit of an investment, but for any Mexican food enthusiast worth their salt, a must. It makes the pressing of perfectly round tortillas effortless and it allows you to go through a quantity of masa quite quickly. Here's the recipe for you! Just remember that when you make tortillas, you are baking and weather does affect your masa. Start with the lower amount of water in the recipe if the day is very wet and gradually add a little more if needed. If the day is as dry and sunny as today is here, use the full amount. The goal is to have a dough that feels like playdough only a little stickier.
Heat a large, dry pan in your hob to high temperature. I use crepe pans to make tortillas, but any non-stick pan would do. Lower lip pans make the flipping of the tortillas easier though!
Put the masa-harina and salt in a bowl and mix well with a fork.
Pour the hot water and using the back of the work, incorporate the ingredients together until the dough comes together. As soon as you feel you can get your hands in it without burning you, use your hands to bring it all into one big ball of dough. Do not work the masa too long, there's no need since there is no gluten strands to develop, so once it's come together, your masa is ready!
Open your tortilla press and line the press with one of the plastic sheets. Make a ball of dough about the size of a golf ball. Place it in the middle of the tortilla press, on top of the plastic sheet. Use the second plastic sheet to cover the ball and press it to form a tortilla. The ball of dough must be pressed in between the two plastic sheets otherwise the masa will stick to the tortilla press.
Open the tortilla press and make sure your tortilla is of the thinness required. I like mine quite thin. Peel off the top plastic sheet. Lift the second plastic sheet (which now has the tortilla) and flipping it into your hand, leaving the tortilla resting in your hand and peeling off the plastic easily.
Place the tortilla in a very hot pan and cook it for 10 seconds before flipping it gently with your hands. Cook the second side of the tortilla for 50 to 60 seconds and then flip it again. At this point, your tortilla should slowly start to rise in a gorgeous puff. Do not touch it until it stops puffing or it collapses, at which point, it is fully cooked and ready to be taken out of the pan and into your Tortilla Cozy if you have one! Repeat step 5 and 6 until all of your masa is gone!
If you have any leftovers of tortillas, cool them completely and wrap them in a clean teatowel. Then stick them into a sealable plastic bag and keep them in the fridge. They keep well for about 4 days in the fridge. After that you can use them to make tortilla soup, chilaquiles, tostadas or homemade tortilla chips! This gorgeous shot of the blue corn taco we made during the demo in Galway was shot by the ever amazing lady that is Brenda Romero on the day so photo courtesy of her. Thank you Brenda and John for coming to see us up that day!