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  1. Wednesday, July 11, 2018

    How to Cook Fresh Masa Tortillas

    Side view of homemade fresh masa corn tortillas

    Several years ago I had the chance to do a walking tour of the Mission District in San Francisco with Rick Bayless. It is one of the coolest things I’ve done and I learned a ton about Mexican cuisine. (Seriously, the Rick Bayless is like a college professor.) One of the topics he covered was tortillas. He took us to a tortilleria where they make their tortillas from fresh masa. These tortillas were like nothing I had every tasted before. Rick explained the difference between maseca and fresh masa and talked probably for 15-20 minutes just about tortillas. I’ve been meaning to act on what I learned since that day but only recently tracked down a fresh masa source in my neighborhood. Man, I wish I had done it sooner because these tortillas. And now that I have cooked them many times I am going to share the magic with you! Today you will learn how to cook fresh masa tortillas and as well as why they are so magical.

    A Wee Bit of Masa History

    I’ve done a lot of reading about masa, corn and tortillas over the last couple of months. The short story is that in ancient Mesoamerica, people processed corn using nixtamilization, where corn is soaked in an alkaline solution and then washed and hulled. This process makes corn a complete nutrient. Interestingly, when Europeans brought corn home they neglected to learn nixtamilization, which in turn made European diets less nutritious. Crazy, huh? Meanwhile in the Americas masa and corn tortillas were a nutritious staple in many people’s diets.

    Side view of a bowl of fresh corn masa

    Fast forward to the 1980s. Masa-based tortillas were still the norm in Mexico until a company called Maseca came along. Maseca created masa flour, basically a flour made from masa. It’s more efficient and shelf stable but does not taste nearly as good as fresh masa. In the beginning Maseca did not do well in Mexico because the taste just couldn’t compare, but in 1988 the new president of Mexico helped the company in significant ways and transformed the Mexican tortilla industry. Today it is more common for tortillas to be made from maseca, which is a crying shame. (Click here to read more about this culinary and economic transformation, it’s fascinating.)

    Top view of a bowl of fresh masaPhoto of homemade fresh masa corn tortillas

    Why Fresh Masa Is So Much Better for Tortillas

    Okay, so back to Rick Bayless. The tortilleria we visited in San Francisco used masa and you could tasted the difference. I have a hard time describing fresh masa tortillas I will try. The difference comes through both in texture and taste. Fresh masa tortillas are more like a flatbread. But as soon as I say that I regret it because they are still like tortillas, but the texture is just so much better. And the flavor is unreal. The kids and I can eat them straight up with a bit of butter (and honey!) and be happy. But of course the tortillas want to be tacos and so we make them tacos! Rick explained that one of the reasons he opened Frontera Grill in Chicago was because there were tortilla makers in that city using fresh masa and he needed a ready source of masa-based tortillas for his restaurant. The tortillas were that important to him when starting his restaurant.

    Homemade fresh masa tortilla with butter and honeyTop view of fresh masa tortillas, one with butter and honey

    How to Cook Fresh Masa Tortillas

    Rick converted me to fresh masa tortillas, but how in the world would I make them at home? You can make your own fresh masa from dried corn – the blog Mexican Please blog has a great recipe and tutorial. However this is a time-consuming process, one which I am not apt to go through on a regular basis. If you are lucky like me and live in range of many Mexican restaurants and tortillerias, chances are one of them makes and sells fresh masa. I searched the map then called places to find out if they sold fresh masa. My source here in North County San Diego is El Nopalito. They sell fresh masa for tortillas for about $1 a pound.

    Side view of tacos using homemade tortillas made from fresh masa

    If you want to make fresh masa tortillas, start digging around to see if you, too, can find a masa source. It is worth the effort to find masa! If you come up empty and feel like a fun food project, maybe give making masa from scratch a shot. But keep in mind I have never done that myself and can’t vouch for the results (although I’m sure it would be delicious)!

    top view of tacos using fresh masa tortillas

    Okay, so you have fresh masa in hand. Now what? In the recipe below I describe in detail the process for how to cook fresh masa tortillas. I’ve made them many times and finally have it down. I will write the instructions as detailed as I can but keep in mind there’s a bit of a learning curve and you just have to dive in and do it to get the hang of it. You’ll get the feel for how to form and cook the tortillas as you cook more of them. If you have questions, just drop them in the comments below! Happy tortilla cooking!

    Process for forming tortillas from fresh masaFresh masa corn tortillas cooking in the pan

    How to Cook Fresh Masa Tortillas
     
    Author:
    Serves: 12-16
    Ingredients
    • 1 pound fresh masa
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (if masa is unsalted)
    Instructions
    1. When working with the fresh masa, make sure it is kept covered or in a plastic bag the whole time so that it doesn't dry out while you are cooking.
    2. Form balls about 2 tablespoons in size, pressing the ball together well and rolling it between your hands to smooth the outside of the ball. I use my medium Pampered Chef scoop to measure out the balls. I also make the dough balls as I cook them, but if you want to form all the balls at once, just make sure you are storing them covered until they are ready to cook.
    3. Cut a quart-sized ziploc bag down the two side seams to form a long, rectangular piece of plastic. I use freezer bags because the thicker plastic holds up longer. I also wash the bag after each use and store it with my tortilla press.
    4. Place half of the plastic on the press, then place a masa dough ball in the center, then fold over the plastic to cover the dough. Gently but firmly press the ball into a tortilla shape. You want to get the tortilla as thin as you can but if you go too thin it will be hard to get off the plastic. It may take a few times to get the feel for it but don't fret, if you mess up just re-roll the ball and start over! If you do have a tortilla stick to the plastic, you may need to wipe the plastic down before trying again. My friend Mindy found it helpful to use a little spray oil on the plastic to prevent sticking, which could be helpful as you start working with the dough.
    5. If you don't have a tortilla press, you can use a glass casserole dish - just put the dough ball in the plastic then firmly press down on the dough. Glass is nice because you can see how thin the tortilla is getting as you press. Just be sure to press evenly down so the tortilla is the same thickness throughout.
    6. Preheat a large frying pan (I use non-stick, but a well-seasoned cast iron skillet should work, too) over medium-high heat. Let it preheat for a good five minutes before you start cooking the tortillas. On my stove medium-high works, but your stove may be a little different. You want the pan quite hot and you'll get a feel for it after you try it the first few times.
    7. Once the pan is hot, place your formed tortilla in the pan and let it cook for about 30 seconds then flip it over. If it is sticking to the pan that means it needs to cook a little longer. I like to do this first flip as early as possible so that the top uncooked side doesn't get too dried out before it finally gets a chance to start cooking on the griddle. After the first flip, let the tortilla cook for a minute or two, flip it back to the original side and cook for another minute or two. The tortilla will looked "cooked" when it's done - non-gummy, dry and potentially browned in spots. It's okay if the tortilla puffs up with air! I use a pancake flipper to flip the tortillas.
    8. Serve immediately. If you can't serve immediately, store in a tortilla warmer. As they sit they will get less crispy and a bit gummy, the best way to reheat is right on the pan. I generally make the tortillas as everyone is eating, but my family is also fine with tortillas that have been sitting in the tortilla warmer for a few minutes. I can cook 3 tortillas at a time on my 12-inch pan, so the cooking goes quickly.

     

    OTHER RECIPES YOU MAY LIKE:

    EQUIPMENT I USED TO MAKE THIS RECIPE:


  2. Tuesday, October 29, 2013

    I finally have a tortilla warmer!

    You know what I’ve always wanted? A tortilla warmer. I’ve frequently looked for them in stores but have had a hard time finding them. (Side note: I don’t know why I never looked on Amazon, but whatever.)

    tortilla warmer | thisweekfordinner.com

    My wonderful neighbor Ari (who is from Mexico City and shops at a Mexican market nearby) knew I was on the lookout for one. She knocked on my door the other day, tortillas and tortilla warmer in hand! She’s a very good neighbor and she knows how to make me very happy!

    tortilla warmer | thisweekfordinner.com

    So, yeah, tortilla warmers are great. You should get one. You can heat up your tortillas, put them in the warmer as you go, then serve all the heated tortillas at once. It’s awesome. (Now that I think about it, my warmer will come in handy for Swedish pancakes, too!)


  3. Wednesday, August 15, 2012

    Pollo Guisado (Chicken Stew)

    One of the dishes I grew up eating was “chicken fajitas.” They weren’t fajitas in the traditional sense but that’s what we always called them. My mom would make a chicken stew called pollo guisado. We would use the stew as a filling in tortillas and eat them like fajitas. Everyone in the family loved “chicken fajitas” for dinner…kids and adults alike!

    I’ll never forget one chicken fajita night in particular. My mom called us all into dinner and we sat down to eat while she finished up a few things in the kitchen. We each started eating then slowly looked at one another. Something was not right. In fact, our food tasted downright weird. No one in the family had the heart to say anything, so we just kept eating. My mom finally sat down, took one bite and said, “Why are you guys eating this?!?!” She immediately realized she had put cinnamon into the stew instead of cumin. Might I recommend NOT using cinnamon in this dish!

    Pollo Guisado (Chicken Stew)
     
    From Cuisine of the American Southwest by Anne Lindsay Greer This stew is rarely served alone as a main course, but rather is frequently used as a filling for Tortas, Tacos or Chalupas (or, in the case of the Wallins, Fajitas)
    Author:
    Recipe type: Main Dish, Poultry
    Ingredients
    • 2 pounds boneless raw chicken, skinned and cut into bite-size pieces, see note*
    • ½ cup flour
    • ¼ teaspoon salt
    • ¼ teaspoon pepper
    • 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
    • 1-2 tablespoon butter
    • 1 medium onion, minced
    • 1 small bell pepper, minced
    • 1 14.5 ounce can Italian plum tomatoes with the juices
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
    • Chicen stock, if needed to thin, see note*
    • salt and pepper to taste
    Instructions
    1. Place the flour, salt and pepper in a bag. Add the chicken in several batches and shake vigorously to coat very lightly with the seasoned flour. In a large skillet, saute the chicken in the oil and butter over medium heat until all sides are lightly browned. Add additional butter if necessary (my mom says she find this is always necessary!). Remove the chicken.
    2. Saute onion and bell pepper 1-2 minutes in the remaining fat in the skillet. Stir in the tomatoes and the juices breaking up the tomatoes with a fork. Stir in the cumin and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Add the chicken and some stock if the mixture seems too thick. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
    3. Serve as a filling for tortas, tacos, chalupas or fajitas and top with whatever toppings you like (cheese, lettuce, tomato, sour cream, guacamole, yadayada). Yields enough filling for about 12 tacos.
    4. *Note: Because this is a filling, the amounts of chicken and liquid are variable depending upon how you plan to use it.

     


  4. Friday, August 27, 2010

    Homemade Adobo Chicken Recipe

    I am finally writing about the spice from this week’s menu post. As some of you guessed, it is annatto seed, also called achiote seed. And I made a homemade adobo chicken recipe with it. And the chicken was good.

    Final view of homemade adobe chicken, a simple dish that tastes and looks gourmet

    Nate came home one day saying how good the adobo chicken at work is, so I started searching for recipes. Oh my, there are so many recipes and they are all so different from one another…so I just picked one that sounded good and went for it. And the result was awesome. Different than what Nate gets at work, but delicious just the same!

    Homemade adobo chicken tacos

    Before I get to the recipe, I have to talk about the tortillas we used with our chicken. Tortilla Land sent me some of their uncooked corn tortillas to try out. I’m a tough corn tortilla critic and, I have to say, I’m so glad Tortilla Land sent me their corn tortillas. They are wonderful! They are not dry at all and don’t fall apart or break, which is what you normally get with store bought corn tortillas. I saw Tortilla Land at Costco just this week, so keep an eye out next time you go! (Seriously, keep an eye out and stock up if you see them…I have a hard time finding them, which makes me said because I love them so.)

    How to make the rub for homemade adobo chicken

    Okay, back to annatto seed and adobo chicken. I used a recipe from About.com, but I’ve changed it up and written it out for you below. I know the recipe looks long, but honestly, this was an easy recipe, so don’t be scared!

    Delicious homemade adobe chicken

    The sweet but spicy sauce is oh so yummy, and grilled chicken is always the best. We served the chicken with tortillas, tomatoes and avocado. You could serve over rice if you like (which I think is how it’s generally served), or just eat the chicken straight up!

    Homemade Adobo Chicken
     
    Sweet and Spicy!
    Author:
    Recipe type: Main Dishes
    Ingredients
    • 4 chicken breasts (I actually used 3 drumsticks and 3 boneless thighs b/c that’s what I had on hand!)
    • Salt (pref. kosher)
    • Rub:
    • ½ Tbsp. annatto (achiote) seeds
    • 1 Tbsp. orange juice
    • 4 Tbsp. white vinegar
    • 1 tsp. cayenne
    • 1 tsp. black pepper
    • 4 garlic cloves
    • Sauce:
    • ⅓ of the rub above
    • 1 cup orange juice
    • 2 Tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
    • 1 tsp. basil
    • 1 tsp. cinnamon
    • ½ tsp. salt
    • a splash or two of white vinegar
    • a few shakes of cayenne pepper
    • a few shakes of black pepper
    • about 1 tsp cornstarch, whisked with some cool water
    Instructions
    1. Cover annatto seeds with boiling water. Cover and let sit overnight.
    2. Drain seeds. Place seeds along with the rest of the “Rub” ingredients in a food processor. Grind until you have a coarse paste, without too many large pieces of seed left.
    3. Place chicken in a casserole dish and sprinkle all over with kosher salt (or regular salt if that’s what you have). Cover pieces with about two-thirds of the achiote rub. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerator for a few hours.
    4. Preheat grill. Grill chicken about 10 minutes on each side over a medium flame or until done. (Click here with even better directions for grilling chicken pieces – this follows closely to what Nate did over a charcoal grill, he’s smart like that.)
    5. To make the sauce, mix all the sauce ingredients (except the cornstarch) and bring to a boil, then simmer for 5-10 minutes. Add the cornstarch mixture during the simmer.
    6. Pour sauce over grilled chicken and enjoy!

    OTHER RECIPES YOU MAY LIKE:

    EQUIPMENT I USED TO MAKE THIS RECIPE:

    By the way, if anyone out there does have an adobo chicken recipe they love, please share! Would love to try it out!