Every now and then I experience a truly miraculous foodie moment. An instant when I know my culinary world has shifted and life will never be the same again. Making our own corn tortillas last night was such a moment. It was a first attempt and by no means perfect, but oh my word! They are SO much better than the store bought variety! And infinitely better than making them with wheat flour. We eat a lot of wraps back home, but tortillas are hard to find in Shanghai and therefore, I would imagine, in the rest of China. The only place I have seen them is at City Shop (there’s one in the Shanghai Center in West Nanjing Road) and then it’s the packaged variety that comes with it’s own stay-fresh sachet and a long shelf life – never a good sign in a product that should only last a few days. They’re okay in a pinch, but not great. So we decided that if you can’t buy them, make them. To make corn tortillas you need a special type of corn flour called masa harina or harina de maiz and a Mexican friend. Okay, the Mexican friend is not, technically, required but it helps. When our rounds kept splitting on the edges our friend Tom recommended we add a bit of wheat flour to the mixture and it worked a treat! The process by which masa harina is made is very different from normal corn flour or maize meal which is why, if you have ever tried to make corn tortillas from normal maize meal, you’ll know it’s like trying to shape a bowl full of cheap playschool glue mixed with ground up bits of old rubber boots. Unlike normal maize meal that just gets sticky and gritty, masa harina makes a soft, pliable dough when mixed with water. We found a 2kg bag at City Shop for US$14.00.
Making the tortillas is dead easy. (Or at least, it would be with the right tools which, of course, we don’t have*). All you need is a heavy based cast iron pan, two sheets of wax paper and a rolling pin. We used cling film, the roll the cling film is wrapped around, a breadboard (for whacking) and a stainless steel pot.
– Mix together 1.5 cups of masa harina, 0.5 cup of wheat flour and one and a third cups of water.
– Once you’ve kneaded the flour and water into a soft, pliable dough, leave to rest for 30 minutes.
– Divide the dough into 12 pieces and roll into balls.
– Place each ball between two sheets of wax paper (*cling film) and roll it into a 2mm thick round with a rolling pin (*whack it with the bread board till more or less flat and then finish off with the cling film roll).
– Cook in a hot pan for about 45 seconds per side et voila!
With a bit of practice they’ll be perfect and you’ll never buy tortillas again. It is also a fantastically social bit of cooking – each person trying to roll a better tortilla or come up with a better filling – and who couldn’t do with a little more of that? We started off with prawns, Ranch dressing and basil pesto, but as the evening progressed and we had more impromptu dinner guests, we added some beef and onions from Ajisen Ramen, peppers that Tom whipped up and a few pieces of processed cheese wedges. Fusion cooking at its “what do we have left in the fridge?” finest.