Eating the World

Mark Bittman: Good Intentions, Bad Tortillas

It's hard to find fault with the unpretentious food writing of Mark Bittman and easy to follow recipes. But when his subject is corn tortillas, fault will be found, and not appreciated.

Let's point them out.

See also Tortilla Making 101: Corn Tortillas and Sopes.

1. The dough:

1 ½ cups masa harina ¼ teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, lard or butter About 1 cup hot water, or more as needed Flour for kneading

Corn tortillas, even when starting from masa flour, is never more than the simple list of ingredients: flour, salt, water. No fat. And no flour for kneading. Fat and kneading are reserved for flour tortillas, the elasticity of which require the dough be beat and dusted into paper-thin round submission. Corn dough is grittier, dryer, and decidedly non-elastic. Easy to portion and easy to press. Why change thousands of years of tradition?

2. The technique:

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and knead until it is smooth and elastic -- just a minute or two. Wrap in plastic, and let it rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to a few hours.

As previously stated, corn dough is not elastic and to rest a dough lacking yeast or gluten for hours would result in nothing more than a dried out mass. Corn dough is best worked freshly mixed, and still somewhat warm, resulting in a smoothly edged tortilla. A rested corn dough does by no means become unworkable, but it may need additional warm water for it become flexible enough again.

3. Cooking:

Cook the tortillas, 1 or 2 at a time, until brown spots appear on the bottom, about a minute. Flip, and do the same on the other side.

No mention of how a good tortilla will puff up when cooking? That is a sight that even the most hardened tortilla maker will delight at. No word to look out for the edges curling up slightly, signifying the tortilla is ready to be flipped? Where's the love Mr. Bittman, where's the love?

Minerva Orduño Rincón dreams of a day when Mexican cuisine begins to get the respect it rightfully deserves, a goal she trying to help along with Muñeca Mexicana handcrafted food. Until then, she is saucier at Gertrude's at the Desert Botanical Garden.

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Minerva Orduño Rincón