Ever since I moved to the East Bay away from my beloved La Palma, I haven’t been able to find good tortillas. Read the labels at most grocery stores and you’ll find that tortillas contain all manner of unpleasant and unneeded (except for shelf life) ingredients. They should only contain three things: Corn, lime, and salt. Even Mi Tierra, the Latin American store on San Pablo I frequent, carries only one brand without additives and they just aren’t very good.
I’m sure someone in Oakland makes good tortillas, but they aren’t on my usual circuit and I haven’t found them yet, so rather than drive myself crazy, I decided I’d start making my own. With a lightweight and cheap metal tortilla press, a bag of regular old Maseca masa, and a cast iron pan, it’s easy to do. I’ve been doing it regularly and it honestly only takes about 10 to 15 minutes to make fresh, hot tortillas for 2 or 4 people.
I learned the technique from the women I worked in the kitchen with at the Jimtown Store and I follow the directions on the masa package for the quantities. If you try this, it’s likely your first few batches won’t be perfect because it takes practice and a feel for the masa and temperature of the pan, but you’ll still have fresh, hot tortillas, and how can that be a bad thing?
Once you form the tortillas on your press between a sheet of thick plastic (like a split plastic produce bag rather than plastic wrap) you lay each one down gently like this on your hot cast iron pan or comal. You can experiment with the thickness. Once it sets and starts to brown, flip it.
Once the second side is set and starts to develop nice brown spots, flip it again and (here’s the technique you won’t learn on the bag of masa flour) tap gently all over the tortilla with your fingertips. This creates little air pockets in the tortillas as they cook, producing light, not leaden tortillas. You’ll see the air pockets rise up as you do this. Remove the tortilla to a clean towel and wrap it. Stack them up as you finish the batch, keeping them covered.
Fish Tacos: Grilled rock fish seasoned lightly with toasted cumin, salt, pepper, smoky paprika. Green salsa from this recipe, cabbage, black beans, radishes, and a quick saute of summer squash and onions with feta.