Matthew's Foray into Blogging

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Feelings of Doubt

Am I deficient because I do not use fresh masa to make my corn tortillas, but rather use reconstituted masa harina? Diana Kennedy, in her excellent volume on Mexican cuisine, From My Mexican Kitchen: Techniques and Ingredients, advocates making fresh masa for your corn tortillas. First, you start with dried corn, about two pounds of it. I do not know how readily available dried corn is, but I have not looked for it. You boil the corn with slaked lime, calcium oxide, being careful not to overcook the corn. It is through cooking when the papery skins easily slide off the kernels, about fifteen minutes. After soaking the boiled corn overnight, you then rub off the yellow skins from each… kernel… of… corn. This sounds to me like an incredibly time-consuming, arduous task. What you have now is mixttamalizado. Now you take your mixttamalizado to your local molino, you know the mill with the round, flat grinding stones. You don’t have ready access to a mill? Neither do I. “The resulting dough, or masa, is now ready to be used for tortillas or antojitos like sopes or gorditas.”

It is interesting to learn how this process works, and I am pleased that Ms. Kennedy provides this recipe. It lends credence to her work, From My Mexican Kitchen, as an authoritative and comprehensive reference on Mexican cooking. However, Ms. Kennedy’s attitude toward purchased masa comes across as condescending. Ms. Kennedy is dismissive of masa harina. She does not even dignify factory made corn tortillas with a mere mention. Ms. Kennedy complains that in fourteen years, or some seemingly arbitrarily precise number, satisfactory prepared masa will not be available, because of advances in food science that add nutrition, increase ease of growing, and so forth, resulting in a product that is lacking in sapidness and a pleasing texture. She creates the impression that there is no other way.

Rick Bayless, chef-owner of Chicago restaurants Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, and author of several Mexican cookbooks, writes in Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen: Recipes and Techniques of a World-Class Cuisine, that, because making fresh masa is a labor intensive, time consuming process, they do not prepare the masa from scratch in his restaurants. He is fortunate enough to have a source for good quality prepared fresh masa for Frontera Grill and Topolobampo. Still, Mr. Bayless does not disdain masa harina. He states that the texture of tortillas and antojitos made from fresh masa is superior to that of corn masa snacks made from masa harina, but he is of the opinion that masa harina is a perfectly acceptable substitute. Further, Mr. Bayless even countenances the use of factory made corn tortillas! I like his approach, in that he just wants people to be exposed to and to experience the joy of more authentic Mexican cooking. He is not at all haughty about it.


  • I think it's ridiculous to expect you to make your own masa. Ridiculous. Like any sane person has time to rub the shell or whatever off each individual kernal. My cousin is Mexican and she doesn't make her own tortillas. She's raising her children and working at the same time.

    When she taught me how to make authentic enchiladas, she told me to BUY my tortillas. And she even told me to get flour, not corn.

    It's all a matter of taste, I think. There's certainly a line between authentic and American-ized Mexican food, you know, Taco Bell is far from authentic. But making your own masa is rather extreme. I think you're right on about her inclusion of the recipe being more about credibility than feasibility.

    You didn't try to make it, did you?
    If you did, how did it turn out?

    By Blogger Aries327, at 12:36 PM, August 26, 2005  

  • No, I did not attempt to make homemade masa. I have not even used purchased fresh masa. It spoils quickly, so I have been reluctant to buy it. I just stick with the masa harina, which I find satisfactory.

    Tex-Mex and authentic Mexican are two different cuisines. Houston Press Columnist Robb Walsh, "in [his] new book, The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Recipe and Photos, [] argue[s] that Tex-Mex is, in fact, America's oldest regional cuisine."

    By Blogger Matthew, at 3:11 AM, August 27, 2005  

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