Or Phil, depending on who’s scheduled…It’s probably Phil. I’m sorry I lied.
S0….2017…We’ve seen some changes recently. The George R.R. Martin 2016 Game of Thrones Celebrity deathcapades has come to an end finally after claiming our Princess Leia and her loving mother (Damn you George R.R. Martin!!!!!). My wedding is finally over with and I can now settle into the rolls of domestic servitu……yeah I can’t even finish writing that. The wedding is over and married life pretty much reflects the same as engaged life and living in sin life. I got a well deserved promotion at my day job which helps finance my passion of cooking and well yeah, other things but we won’t delve into such trivial non sequential things.
About a month ago my husband and I decided to have a spontaneous date night and go grab tacos. Now we don’t really need a date night to go enjoy tacos. Sometimes we don’t even need pants but it helps as we get unusual stares at Taco Bell when we show up in our pajamas. In St. Louis there is no shortage of awesome places to get tacos be it traditional Mexican street style or crazy Korean fusion tacos. Some of our best tacos are found in little parking lot kiosk buildings. I’ll plug some of my favorite taco joints in St. Louis for you to visit if you’re here as a huge mistake or voluntarily. But back to date night. One of the areas in St. Louis which has experienced its own little renaissance of its own, the Historical Cherokee-Lemp District. Twenty years ago you would not catch me in broad daylight wandering that neighborhood due to the heavy drug activity as well as it being a rather popular hangout for those who practice the backseat mambo, which is sad because it is probably one of the only neighborhoods in the city where you could go to find the largest population of Latin grocery stores and restaurants. But due to it being one of many disinvested inner-city neighborhoods it developed its own little reputation of being “one of those unsafe areas” despite of its centralized location to many inner-city bus lines as well as it being a historical neighborhood chalked full of beautiful buildings.
Now, since its 2011 rebirth, many new and amazing restaurants have moved in and have secured their footing in this area, but one thing that has remained the same and sustained the tests of time is the Latin influence. On any given block one can visit and patron a wide variety of Hispanic merchants. Grocery stores attached to taquerias, clothing stores litter the 7 block span of the Cherokee-Lemp district west of Jefferson Avenue. It is quite honestly our version of Little Mexico City. During one brief excursion to a grocery store I stumbled across a row of tortilla presses. The inner Rick Bayless in me squealed in delight at the idea and notion of making my own corn tacos from scratch. Needless to say $15.00 later I happily was on my way home with my new purchase, where it promptly found its way into my pantry to be forgotten until this week when out of the blue I had the overwhelming urge to eat tacos. I blame Deadpool and my unnatural obsession with him *I love you Ryan Reynolds! ^.^*
For those who know me, as in they’ve seen me dancing in my kitchen at 2 am wearing pajamas and a slippers, know that my kitchen normally is always at the ready for whatever whimsy that I feel like doing. I am that shopper who will go aisle by aisle and pick up random items if there was potential that “I might make it in the next month”. Not produce or fresh meat of course but things like canned jackfruit, ponzu sauce, dashi flakes, you’re not quite so regular items on a weekly grocery list items, so I wasn’t really surprised when I found 2 bags of masa harina in my pantry. All it told me was that it was indeed…..taco making time.
Ideally I’d have picked up some fresh ground masa but given that this spontaneous urge to taco was last-minute I had to go with what was readily available which was my handy-dandy bag of masa harina flour. WTF is masa harina flour? It’s essentially instant corn masa flour. Think of it as AP flour (all-purpose) but corn. It’s what we can use if we don’t readily have access to the fresh stuff. Works in a pinch but requires a little extra flavor to make it taste right. At least to me personally it tastes a little bland so like all recipes you need to make it your own and tweak it.
The packaging recipe states to mix 2 cups masa harina flour with 1 1/2 cups of water. I find that it is also helpful to add a little sea salt (about 1/2 teaspoon to start) as well as 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, shortening or butter. I’ve tried without the introduction of fat and they just come out a little meh. I’ve tried with cold water, warm water, hot water and find that hot water works best as it helps to melt the butter making it easier to incorporate it into the masa flour. Then we can get down to the fun part. Getting our hands dirty. I personally dislike the feel of masa flour on my hands because it feels like I’ve got dried dirt on them and I’m like NOPE NEGATIVE NO WAY! so i put on latex free gloves. You’re going to want to mix in the water in a slow stream and kneed for about 2-3 minute to ensure it is well mixed and then cover it in plastic and allow it to rest and hydrate for anywhere from 30 minutes up to a few hours. I.e this is something you can walk away from and like go take a nap or run to the store and get something to drink like tequila! I find this rest process is essential because it makes the dough more soft and pliable which yields a softer tortilla. I’ve not gone over 30 minutes but hey I’m open for experimentation. I mean isn’t that why we cook in the first place?
After at least 30 minutes if you find that you can’t stand not having delicious tacos in your face hole go ahead and start to heat up your griddle. Now considering on who’s technique you use you will find that some people say use a single heat zone, some say heat on high, medium high. Some say use two heat zones. I’ve been more successful with 2 heat zones ala the Rick Bayless technique. You will want to set your griddle (I have 2 which cover two burners) to be a medium heat in the front and a medium high in the back..Or if you’re me a medium in the back, medium high in the front (the front burner is my biggest one). If you don’t have a griddle that big just simply use two skillets set to different temperatures. I recommend cast iron as they retain and distribute heat better.
Once your griddle(s) is up to appropriate temperature you’re ready to crack out some corn tortilla goodness. Taking your tortilla press (if you own one) you’ll want to roll out 1 oz balls (roughly the size of a walnut). Take 2 pieces of plastic (a large ziplock bag cut to size works great) and place one piece on the first plate, setting your masa ball in the center. Flatten slightly with your fingers and cover. When pressing out your tortilla it’s recommended that you want to slowly press out the dough. Why you can’t go fast I have no clue but everything I’ve read (because I am far from an expert on the art of tortilla) recommends a slow press to obtain the size of 5-6 inches. For all I know pressing the tortilla to hard and fast might cause a bomb to detonate somewhere. I will honestly tell you that over the course of the last few weeks of me making corn tortillas I still get excited when I lift the top plate and see a perfectly centered, circled tortilla. I don’t know what it is about it but it feels like success at that point…or it could be that it reminds me of pressing out play dough. The latter sounds more plausible.
The most difficult part of this process I feel is the transferring of the corn tortilla to the actual cooking surface. So much can go wrong when you peel of the top piece of plastic. It could stick and tear apart. I have found that the method that works the best for me is to slowly peel off the top sheet of plastic, lift it slightly off the plate and line the top of the tortilla with your index finger and slowly peel off the back piece of plastic, lifting it up slightly to completely remove. Or you can click this link —-> Rick Bayless Corn Tortilla and watch the master do it. He’s kind of my go to guy for gringos who cook Latin food. That and I really enjoy watching him on PBS.
Gently lay your tortilla down on the griddle (medium temped side) and allow to cook for 30 seconds or so on one side. You’ll know its ready to flip when you notice the outer edges start to dry out. The edges will also have started to possibly curl up a little showing you that its ready to flip. After about 30 seconds you will want to either use a metal spatula or if you have callused fingers like me you can gently pick up the tortilla and transfer it to the medium high section of your griddle to cook for another minute or so or until you notice that its lightly browned. After a minute you’ll want to flip it a final time back to the original side and I don’t know how Rick Bayless does this but he said if you do it correctly you’ll see it start to puff up like a pita bread. I have a success rate of like 50% with the puffing and while the unpuffed ones taste good, the puffed up tortilla shells taste the best. Once I figure out what I’m doing wrong I’ll update you guys. Until then, fingers crossed and best of luck for the puff.
Transfer your finished tortillas to a towel lined bowl, container. I have a styrofoam tortilla warmer but I’ve used a plate. Maybe a plastic bag works also. But this allows the tortilla to finish cooking by steaming itself. After that its pretty much self-explanatory. You fill them up with whatever you want to fill them up with and eat them. If you didn’t want to make all the masa dough you can store it in a plastic bag for up to 3 days and the cooked corn tortillas for up to a week in a plastic bag.
You can reheat these but the best time to eat them is the day you make them. But if you must reheat them then you will need to use the towel to line a microwave-safe casserole dish (8 or 9 inches in diameter is best). Lay in a dozen tortillas, cover with the towel and the lid, then microwave at 50 percent power for 4 minutes. Let stand for 2 to 3 minutes. The tortillas will stay warm for 20 minutes.
Homemade Corn Tortillas
- 2 cups Masa Harina Instant Corn Masa Flour
- 1 1/2 cups hot water
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, lard, butter
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
Mix flour, salt, butter in bowl. Slowly incorporate water and mix to form a soft pliable dough, kneading for 2 minutes. Cover with plastic and allow to sit at room temperature for a minimum of 30 minutes up to a few hours to allow the dough to fully hydrate. Heat your griddle(s): 1 to medium, 1 to medium high. Take a 1 oz ball of dough (walnut size) and press between two pieces of plastic to form a 5-6 inch circle. Gently transfer to your griddle heated to medium and allow to cook undisturbed for 30 seconds or until the edges start to dry out. Gently transfer to the medium high griddle and continue cooking for up to 1 minute or until lightly brown. Flip back to the original side and if done correctly it will puff up like a pita. If now allow to cook for another 30 seconds and transfer to a towel lined container to allow tortilla to finish cooking via steam. Fill with noms and enjoy!