Saturday, May 3, 2014

Homemade from Scratch Corn Tortillas--Success!

I have been on a quest to make my own corn tortillas from scratch--that is, starting with dried field or dent corn, making nixtamal, grinding the processed corn, and then pressing and frying the tortillas.

I blogged about my efforts some time ago. (See Homemade Masa and Corn Tortillas--An Adventure)

The part that didn't work well for me was the actual grinding of the wet corn. I tried various grinders that advertised they could do the job, but to no avail. Further research indicated that I needed to buy a traditional wet corn grinder, such as Corona, Estrella, or Victoria. So I started haunting eBay and bought this:

I was so excited to try it out, but held my excitement somewhat in check because of my previous dismal experiences. Still...

I poured about 3 quarts of water into a large stainless steel pot and stirred in 2 heaping tablespoons of cal. Cal is calcium hydroxide, sometimes called slaked lime or pickling lime. You can pick up small packages of cal at Mexican grocery markets, or you can buy large bags (for cheap!) like this one:

Pour in a quart of dried field corn into the lime and water mixture and turn on the heat to medium high. Stirring regularly with a long-handled stainless steel spoon, bring the corn and water to a boil and boil for 5-10 minutes. Take the pot off the heat, cover it, and let the concoction sit on your stove for about 8 hours. (If you boil the corn at night, you can continue the process the next morning. Likewise, you can boil the corn in the morning and make the tortillas for dinner that evening.)

When it's time to grind, you first need to drain and rinse the corn. This is the process: rinse the corn and, while rinsing, rub the kernels through your hands. Your aim is to rub off the papery skin from the corn. Supposedly you'll get the corn looking white, but that has not been my experience--my corn still looks yellow even though I know I've rubbed and rinsed enough. (I know that because the rinse water is no longer cloudy.)

Now, I hate the thought of wasting all that running water while I'm rubbing and rinsing. So instead, I put the rinsed and drained corn in a large bowl and cover it with plenty of fresh water. Then I rub and rub the corn. When the water looks cloudy, I drain the corn and repeat the process. I find that about six rinse-and-rubs is enough. Here's my cleaned corn, covered with clean water:

When I'm satisfied, I rinse one last time and drain the corn and put it back into the bowl. Then I grind. This has always been the part where I'm unhappy with the results. But having the right type of grinder made all the difference this time. The nixtamalized corn ground effortlessly and it was way easier than when I hand grind my wheat into flour.
Hard to tell in the photo, but the ground corn (masa) was smooth, so when I made the tortillas, I was able to press them very thin:
I mix in a small amount of salt into my masa because I think it tastes better, but I've made it without added salt, so suit yourself.

The masa wants to stick to my tortilla press so I use a quart freezer bag: I cut off the zipper top and then cut down each side so only the bottom of the bag is hinged. I place half the bag on the press and then lay my dough ball on it. (The dough should be about the size of a golf ball. Place it a bit nearer to the hinged side of the tortilla press so it presses evenly.) Lay the other half of the bag on top of the dough ball before pressing. Gently peel the tortilla off the plastic bag and then fry it. I use a cast iron tortilla pan and because it's seasoned I fry the tortillas on fairly high heat (a few minutes each side) with no oil. Here's the result:

And finally, this (spicy refried beans, tomatoes, and avocado):

I realize that making corn tortillas from scratch isn't as quick as buying a readymade package. But the taste is out of this world, and I fill up much faster with my homemade ones. Two of those bean, tomato, and avocado tortillas were more than I could eat. Plus I love knowing how to make them...successfully, at last!


  1. Georgia, I LOVED reading thru this whole process! Thank you for sharing the details. I used to stop by this one place on East Haley St. in Santa Barbara (when I lived there) and pick up some freshly made corn tortillas just to roll and munch all by themselves. I can't imagine the increased flavor obtained by doing it just as you've wonderfully described here. Maybe one of these days, when I run out of things to do, I'll try this. Sounds very interesting!!!

  2. It's totally worth the time and effort! I buy fifty-pound sacks of dried field corn to use, but you can also make a passable tortilla from popcorn.