MAKES 2.2 LB [998 G] MASA
(about thirty-five 5 in [15 cm] tortillas)
1 lb [455 g] dry field corn
1/6 oz [4.5 g] food-grade calcium hydroxide (1 percent cal to total weight of corn) Warm water
Rinse the corn in a colander to remove any debris or chaff.
Place the cal in a medium nonreactive mixing bowl and slowly incorporate warm water, stirring until the mix becomes a loose, smooth, and uniform slurry.
Pour the corn into a large nonreactive pot and add the cal mixture directly into the pot. Add just enough water to cover the corn by 4 in [10 cm] and stir everything together with a spatula to evenly incorporate.
Cover the pot (optional; however, it helps to get to temperature faster) and place over high
heat. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to medium for a simmer. Using a fine-mesh sieve, skim any unwanted kernels or particles that float to the surface and discard.
Stirring frequently so the corn doesn’t scorch at the bottom of the pot, set a timer and check the corn every 5 minutes for the following variables:
→ Remove a kernel and rub it between your fingers. If the skin easily slides off (I mean easily), we’re nearly there.
→ Taste a kernel. When it’s ready, it will be tender, but al dente (like a boiled peanut or roasted cashew) and have a distinct tortilla flavor.
The skins’ loosening and the texture and flavor development should take anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes, depending on the corn’s moisture content and density.
Continue cooking, if necessary, checking every 5 minutes, until the skins are loosened and you have reached the desired texture and flavor. Remove from the heat and cover the pot. Let the pot sit undisturbed for 6 to 12 hours.
Drain the steeped corn, now called nixtamal, into a colander. Rinse, massage, and agitate the nixtamal vigorously until it has reached your desired percentage of skin wash-off (I recommend about 50 percent, to start).
Grind the rinsed nixtamal. For a table tortilla masa, we want as fine a grind as possible—if you were to rub the masa between your fingers, the absolute ideal would be to feel no particles whatsoever.
Mix the masa manually or using a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment for 2 to 3 minutes, slowly adding water as needed, until the masa is as wet to the touch as possible without being sticky (that is, clumps should not easily stick to your hand). Perform the smush test. Adjust the water as necessary until no cracking occurs.
THE SMUSH TEST
To test the masa for the right level of moisture, roll a ping-pong-size ball (11⁄2 in [4 cm]) and flatten it between the palms of your hands. If the edges of the flattened masa are cracking, add more water until it passes the same test without cracking. (The ideal texture is moist but not sticky, pliable but not gummy.) Once it does, you’re ready to get into tortilla pressing.
Storage: Table tortilla masa contains 57 to 70 percent moisture, which means that it will ferment quickly at ambient temperatures. While I always prefer to use fresh masa immediately, you may choose to store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Bear in mind, however, that refrigerated or frozen masa will lose some elasticity over time, and you will most likely need to reincorporate additional moisture into the masa and mix it before use. If you are storing your masa at room temperature, I recommend holding for no longer than 4 hours. Even then, you may need to reincorporate a bit of moisture, as water will have evaporated from the masa, drying it out.
Preparing Table Tortilla Masa Using Masa Harina
If using masa harina (see Note, below), 1 lb [455 g] dry masa harina should yield 2 to 21⁄2 lb [910 g to 1.2 kg] of wet masa.
By weight, you can assume the ratio of 1 part masa harina to 1.4 parts water. If you do not have a scale, 1 packed cup of masa harina requires about 1 scant cup [237 ml] of water (by volume). One packed cup of dry masa harina should yield about ten 5 in [15 cm] tortillas. Not all brands are created equal, so you may need to adjust ratios accordingly.
Slowly add the water to the dry masa harina in a large bowl, stirring the masa to incorporate evenly by hand (you may also choose to use a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook). Knead until the water is evenly incorporated and no dry, powdery spots remain. You’ll want a finished masa that is moist to the touch, but not sticky.
Once prepared, use immediately, or rehydrate with additional water before use (if it’s been more than a few minutes).
Note: This ratio was calculated using Masienda masa harina.
Reprinted from Masa by Jorge Gaviria with permission from Chronicle Books, 2022. Photographs © Graydon Herriott.
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