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Syzygies

Nixtamal / masa / tacos from Masienda Oaxacan corn

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We've been making our own masa for corn tacos. It's work but very much worth it. The story goes that when Masienda's Oaxacan corn reaches the taco griddle at an upscale Mexican restaurant, the aroma makes the Mexican staff tear up with childhood memories. It's really that good (and Anson Mills doesn't come close for this application):

Masienda

A shopping list for a full setup:

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One cooks corn with cal and water, then lets it sit overnight, to make nixtamal. Recipes for this are all over the map, and no one accounts for the weight of the corn and the water, unlike the brine recipes in Paul Bertolli's Cooking by Hand. I've found that 4:1 water:corn suffices for any corn variety, and 0.5% cal by weight is a minimum effective dose. For example, 360g corn, 1440g water, 9g cal.

Cooking times are also all over the map. One wants to see a partially translucent but not mushy kernel when you cut one open to check. After short cooking times Laurie experienced digestive distress. We've settled on using an old slow cooker on a four hour external timer. It only reaches an effective temperature in the last hour, and the corn comes out right.

One then rinses the kernels multiple times to get rid of the dissolved outer layer, then grinds the nixtamal to make masa. Traditionally one used a stone metate; this took hours and a shower. Mexicans often use hand-cranked metal grinders, but this requires two passes, and in Youtube videos they finish on a metate. It is rumored to take hundreds of pounds of corn to stop seeing metal fragments from these grinders.

Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo imported a Nixtamatic, a powered Mexican machine. Masienda sells the Molinito, a $1750, 26" x 13" x 19" countertop commercial unit. Bricia Lopez, in Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico recommends an Indian wet grinder. One grinds for 40 minutes, scraping down as needed, after adding 1/3 water by weight. This yields a too-wet masa that one corrects with masa harina; the masa still comes out much better than straight masa harina, even Masienda's. A wet grinder is easy to clean.

I cannot speak highly enough of Masienda's tortilla press. I actually had a project languishing over a decade to finish a cherry wood press. Now there's no point. The Masienda press is capable of greater force than any other home press I know. How does one avoid a tortilla thinner at one end? Easy, press, rotate, press. How does one easily peel the tortilla free? Press inside a slit open plastic food storage bag. Lift the plastic off one side. Flip, lift the plastic free from the other side.

While I own a comal, I vastly prefer cooking tortillas on a Baking Steel, in a pipeline three tortillas deep, flipping every minute at around 500 F. Restaurants use restaurant griddles the same way. It is essential to lightly season the griddle before starting, or wet tortillas will stick. Nothing beats a Dexter Russell 16160 Traditional Series 6" x 3" Hamburger Turner for flipping the tortillas.

This is all truly worth it.

Edited by Syzygies
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So, thank you for all of this @Syzygies.  I am already partway down this rabbit hole but have a look out on the outside, ready to pull me out if I look like getting stuck down a side burrow.  

All roads appear to lead to Masienda. My tacos inspiration is coming from this awesome book, Tacos by Alex Stupak: https://read.amazon.co.uk/kp/embed?asin=B00TCI2A3Q&preview=newtab&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_4NRTZSQKNF2TREX70V7G

I don't think I will find another book to top this one for its sheer inventiveness and range.  The author recommends Masienda.

I reached out to @Braai-Q for Mexican cook book recommendations and he came up with Breddos, the same Tacos book by Alex Stupack as above, Mexico the cookbook and the same Oaxaca book that @Syzygies recommends.  Interestingly Breddos also shop with Masienda even though their restaurant is in the UK. 

So, Masienda is a common thread.  I have had a fair bit of correspondence with them, poor things, and have ordered their nixtamatal starter kit (excluding the tortilla press) and white and blue masa harina so that I have something to compare to my fresh masa efforts.  They do not have stock of the black beans that I also want and I have decided to wait until the end of March when they are available.  Shipping is not cheap and I need to maximise what I get in my package.

No new tortilla press.  My husband laughed at me when I gave away what was then our "second best" tortilla press last summer.  How many UK households have one tortilla press, let alone two? Well, having bought the Netherton Foundry tortilla press over Christmas I now have two again and I am happy with both.  Will see what Sy thinks of the Netherton tortilla press when he finally gets his hands on one.  I am sure he won't be able to resist. 

On to grinding the masa.  The guy at Masienda wanted to know what I would be grinding the corn with.  A perfectly good question given the challenge of doing this well.  I took Sy's lead and looked into the Premier stone wet grinders.  I looked at the 2 litre version - takes up too much space on the countertop.  The tilting version looked attractive but it didn't have good reviews.  So, I ended up where I started, with Sy's recommendation of the 1.5 litre version.  My dad gave me £100 for my birthday present and that was the trigger to place my order.  Waiting for it to arrive. Sometime in April I will report back on whether this was all worth it.  In the meantime, I am enjoying upping my flour tortilla game will be dabbling in the corn tortilla space, using "inferior" cheap masa harina with flavourings to test the boundaries of what is good and what is not . 

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So far so good.  The stone wet grinder has arrived from India.  Gotta change the plug but then it should be good to go.  Also have to find somewhere to store it!  Now the wait for the corn from Masienda...

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Temp on I’m not sure what that is.
Furthermore, I’m not biting.... the last thing I need is another appliance.
My cupboards are full.


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2 hours ago, Basher said:

Temp on I’m not sure what that is.
Furthermore, I’m not biting.... the last thing I need is another appliance.
My cupboards are full.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

You are right not to bite.  At least not until I give you a very good reason to do so.  Its primary purpose is to grind corn for masa for tortillas.  However, Indians use it for making batter for dosas and other things.  That will be an interesting rabbit hole to visit.  As will the one with Thai spice mixes.  We shall see.  

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9 hours ago, jonj said:

No, no! I must look away!

No worries Jon. I can't recommend it yet.  Once the plug is changed I will find time to find out how/why Indians use one in their cooking.  My coeliac friend seemed to enjoy his lentil or rice dosa when he had it in an Indian restaurant but they were experts and their dosa looked super impressive.  I am relying on Dave being right to turn this into a must have piece of kit.  Texan friend couldn't believe that I could make corn tortilla and begged me to make her some.  Imagine her delight if wet masa makes my tortillas even better than she remembers.  

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Hey Syzygies, thanks all your information in your original post on this thread. I glanced at it a few times but dug in today and wow you may have set me in motion with making fresh masa for tortillas and tamales. Since I was a kid I helped my dad make tamales. I remember going to the tortilla factory as a kid and buying the masa fresh. Now the idea of making fresh masa using heirloom corn has me stoked to go ahead and purchase the ingredients and equipment. I like the idea of taking our family tamale recipe to the next level. We have a Metate in our home but it serves mainly as a decoration these days. I like the idea of the wet grinder you have in your post. We have a family tortilla recipe that uses flour and cornmeal and we hand roll our tortillas, however I do love corn tortillas as well so this has me excited as well. One of the other recent threads on the forum was for Tacos al Pastor and plan on picking up the Trompo King to assist me here. 

All the best,

Paul

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So as Tekobo would say I jumped down this rabbit hole today. I ordered to two cookbooks suggested above and the from Masienda I ordered the Nixtamal starter kit complete with tortilla press (along with white and blue masa flour). I decided to hold off on the Masa hand mill at this time. 

Tekobo, I understand that you ordered the Premier 1.5 liter table top wet grinder and look forward to your feedback.

@Syzygies I believe from your original post that you already procured the Premier 1.5 liter wet grinder. Are you able to confirm that you are happy with this product? 

I'm excited to start making heirloom tortillas for many of my mexican dishes, masa for tamales and pozole from the heirloom corn!

@syzygies .....thanks again for posting this information on the website. I also decided to look at the Rancho Gordo and find their Heirloom beans fascinating and I'm sure it won't be long before an order is placed for these as well!

Cheers

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1 hour ago, PVPAUL said:

@Syzygies I believe from your original post that you already procured the Premier 1.5 liter wet grinder. Are you able to confirm that you are happy with this product? 

Yes. I originally was planning to "take one for the team" and also buy the best (not Mexican, but tuned for masa) hand mill. I do have two kitchens. The wet grinder worked well enough that I decided I was done. It does require tending. The wetter the mixture the less tending, but then you need to add more masa harina to compensate. And doneness isn't by the clock, presumably one could learn to spot when it's done, even 20 minutes in with effective tending, and bail. 40 minutes allows rather casual surveillance.

 

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@Syzygies- what beautiful tortilla!  Super lovely puff.

@PVPAUL it was one of your earlier posts, as you know, that got me into making tortilla for the first time.  Thank you for generously sharing your family recipe.  Your little tips were very helpful.  You said not to add too much flour at the rolling stage and that your family used to use lard in place of oil.  I find that using animal fat in my flour tortillas seems to make them less likely to stick and I don't need to flour my rolling surface much, if at all.  You also said about cooking the tacos over direct flame and I have found that to be a good technique when I want a quick puff and slight char.  Thanks a lot.  I look forward to seeing how you get on with the Masienda products.  Mine will probably arrive in April and I will have a go with the Premier grinder then.

@SilverSuzieQue look forward to seeing your blue tortillas in all their glory.  

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Today my ship came in.  Well, the UPS man delivered.

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I bought a load of corn to start my nixtamalisation journey. A bit daunting.  I bought some masa harina to see what the end product is like.  Made a few tortilla to go with our chilli tonight.

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Not bad for first try.  Good but not transcendental noting that this is, admittedly, just the dried corn flour.  I look forward to seeing how the wet masa turns out.  It feels like the start of a journey.  I hope the destination turns out to be worth it...

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There used to be a restaurant in San Diego called parallel 33 and they had dishes from countries all along that line that San Diego is on. 33 lines above the equator. They made Moroccan, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, middle eastern food and it was all amazing. I always thought it was a cool concept 

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15 hours ago, Basher said:

Tekobo I’m waiting for you to open a restaurant. Just not sure what you would call it?
Foods of the Planet?


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No restaurant planned but, if we ever get out of these lockdown restrictions, I am planning a themed banquet a month.  Big trestle tables in the garden and menus themed by country.  I cannot wait to see and feed my friends again!

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Hello All, I just wanted to follow up on my 1st run at Nixtamalization.....making masa and tortillas. My Masa starter kit from Masienda arrived about 10 days ago and my Premier wet grinder arrived earlier this week. All and all I would say it was a success...did the nixtamalization process last night and started out just making 1 lb of heirloom corn and taking notes. The grinding process went pretty good...did it in two batches and ended up adding about 1.25 cups of water. I believed the end consistency coming out to the machine was good (not too much moisture) so initially I did not add any dry masa back into the mixture. When I started using the tortilla press I was not able to handle the tortilla without it breaking up on me. Based on this I decided to add dry masa (from Masienda) back into the masa mixture. I ended up adding 6 TBS and after that the tortillas held together...but they were still pretty fragile. I was able to get some "puff" but not as good as I hoped! Maybe more dry masa next time??? I also learned to not press to hard on the Masienda tortilla press as they would get too thin. For dinner I made two fresh salsa's using a Mocajete, guacamole and some Mexican street style corn.

Earlier this week I smoked up a 6lb rack of beef plate ribs. I decided to warm up these leftovers  via sous vide to about 100F and was able to cut up the meat and cut off some of the fat which I rendered down and then pan fried the cut up rib meat until it was crispy! All and all it turned out very good!  The Cerveza in the pic is a homebrew Hazy IPA.

I look forward to my continuing education in the art of Nixtamalization!

Thanks @syzygies !!!

Paul

Beef Plate Ribs.jpg

Dinner Pic.jpg

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