For Better Breakfast Tacos, Start With the Tortilla
Chef Aarón Sánchez has some tips for making your own
When you bite into a really killer breakfast taco, what strikes you first? The cheesy eggs? Griddled potatoes? For me, it’s the tortilla. The first bite will tell me whether the tortilla is corn or flour, homemade or store-bought, chewy and tender or crumbly and soggy. Even if the fillings are top notch, a subpar tortilla can really throw off the experience. While buying fresh (or even frozen) tortillas is easiest, if you find yourself with a bit of extra time, experiment with making your own—it takes no more than a few ingredients and bit of patience.
“Flour tortillas are usually softer and more pliable, but more sturdy,” Chef Aarón Sánchez told me in an email. Chef Sánchez, a veritable tortillas expert, is currently partened with Tequila Cazadores to judge the Tortilla Awards, a national tortilla-making competition in Los Angeles. “Corn are a bit heartier and used generally for tacos.” Chef Sánchez said that flour tortillas are used more commonly in northern states in Mexico, because there are a lot of cattle ranchers in that area, and you’ll typically find flour tortillas paired with beef. According to Chef Sánchez, flour is typically used for larger tortillas—perfect for dishes that are loaded with fillings, like burritos or enchiladas—while corn tortillas (which can crumble if too loaded with fillings) are ideal for tacos and taquitos.
Of course, if you’re going to make tortillas from scratch, Chef Sánchez suggests shopping “somewhere local and authentic." And even if there isn’t a Mexican grocery store in your area, you can still purchase authentic ingredients online.
No tortilla press of your own? Me neither. It’s OK, you can use any sturdy pot or pan to press your corn tortillas. I’ve had lots of luck using a glass pie plate, as you can easily grip the edges to press firmly into the dough. Plus, because it’s clear, you can see exactly how large the tortilla is going to be.
Flour Tortillas (Tortillas De Harina)
Yield: About 36 regular size or 42 to 48 miniature size
6 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 heaping cup vegetable shortening
2 cups warm water, or a little more
1. Mix dry ingredients (it is not necessary to sift them), work in shortening with yours hands until you get the consistency of oatmeal, and then pour in the lukewarm water all at once. Mix well and knead for 2 or 3 minutes. Dough should be most but manageable—a little drier than biscuit dough. Coat with a little oil or more soft shortening and put into plastic bag for 20 minutes until dough is soft.
2. Take a large piece of dough and squeeze out a portion about the size of a ping-pong ball.
3. Roll the ball around in the palms of your hands until smooth. (It is best to prepare half the dough in balls while you keep the remaining half in the plastic bag so it won’t dry out.)
4. Using the tips of your fingers, flatten each ball slightly, then roll out with a rolling pin to the size of a saucer.
5. Heat your griddle hot, and cook the tortillas like flapjacks until they are cooked through and have developed brown spots. Do not allow scorching—lowering heat as necessary to maintain an even temperature. The tortilla will puff up slightly as it cooks. Once you have turned a tortilla and completed the cooking cycle on both sides, press down with your spatula for about 30 seconds or more on all edges of the round so that you produce a flat, golden disk, crisp and tasty. Do this on both sides.
6. Cool on a clean dish towel.
Corn Tortillas (Tortillas de Maiz)
Yield: 16 small tortillas
2 cups instant corn flour (masa harina)
1⅓ cup of warm water
1. Heat griddle (preferably Teflon) over medium game and have ready. Mix corn flour (masa harina) and warm water together to form a soft dough. Pinch of pieces of dough about the size of a ping pong ball. Dampen hands and roll ball around in the palms of your hands to smooth it. Keep dough covered with damp towel or in a plastic bag to prevent it from drying.
2. Open tortilla press and lay a plastic bag on the bottom half. Place a ball of dough a little off center, more towards the hinge side.
3. Cover with second plastic bag and press with palm of hand first, to flatten ball slightly.
4. Close and press firmly, then open. Peel top plastic bag off, dampen hands, and lift up the plastic bag with tortilla resting on it.
5. Now transfer tortilla, dough side down, to your hand.
6. With your free hand, carefully peel the bag off the dough.
7. Cook the tortillas according to the directions in the flour tortillas recipe.