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Nixtamal / masa / tacos from Masienda Oaxacan corn

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Nixtamalisation report - A+.  It is well worth diving down this rabbit hole.

I have done this twice now and the second time was even better than the first. In reverse order:

Every tortilla in the batch bubbled to order.  Not @Syzygiesfull tortilla rise but enough to get me whooping for joy.

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We tried some tortilla in the hollandaise sauce from the previous course.  A combination to die for.

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I wrote to Tony at Masienda after my first cook and he advised me to use plastic bags to line my tortilla press in place of the grease proof paper that I normally use.  Big improvement.  Peeled off so much easier.

I also asked him about needing to use masa harina (dried masa flour) to get the wet masa to the right consistency.  I felt like a pregnant mum who had wanted a natural birth but ended up screaming for the epidural.  He reassured me that it was perfectly normal.  I didn't want to have to ship more masa harina over from the US and so I asked if I could make my own.  He said I could dehydrate my masa and then grind it myself. Here it is, with the bonus that the masa harina is made from the same corn as the wet masa.

Fresh masa straight from the grinder, ready to go in the dehydrator.

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Dried

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Ground

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No pictures of the front end of the process but this is what I did:

Cooked 500g of corn with 2000g of water and 15g of cal.  It took about 1hr and 15 mins for the bolita amarillo corn to get soft(ish) to the bite on the outer kernel while keeping the heart of the kernel hard.  Heated slowly and it didn't read over 90C until after 45 minutes.  Didn't let it get to boiling.

At the end, overall weight was down to 2000g.  I decanted the hot mix - corn, nixmatal and all - into a fresh container, added 500g of ice and placed in a sink full of cold water and ice.  Once cooled, I left the mix to rest for 24hrs at room temp and then stored it in the fridge without grinding.  One recipe that came with the corn said never to put this stuff in the fridge and the other said it was OK to put in the fridge for a couple of days or so.  Latter much more convenient, given the need to use the masa within a couple of hours of grinding. 

When I was ready to grind, I washed the corn in lots of running water (some recipes say not to be too vigorous with your cleaning, others say to be thorough).  The Premier grinder is awesome.  It comes with rudimentary instructions and I watched a Gujerati woman on YouTube before assembling and using the kit.  Dead easy to use and you need to judge the amount of liquid you need to keep the ground corn going round smoothly.  A few interventions with spatula needed during the process but it works pretty well on its own for 40 minutes.  I suspect I could have stopped at 20 minutes but twice as long was good.

I added in my powdered masa when I came to make up the balls and all was good with the world.

The Husband said he could understand why Mexican chefs would cry when they tasted tortillas made with fresh masa made from good corn.  The best compliment came from one of our guests when he said what a difference it was to eat a tortilla that was not just a tasteless conveyor of its taco contents but a player with a stake in the game.  Thanks @Syzygies

 

P.S.  No I am not mad and this is not difficult.  I cooked the corn two days before I needed to use it.  All of the process on the day fitted into the prep for a four course meal that was cooked fresh on the day in a total of three hours active cooking time.

I continue in search of the perfect tortilla but, in the meantime, this was pretty damn good.

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Truly inspiring @tekobo very happy for your success. I’m still sticking with driving 15 minutes to pick up some fresh pressed tortillas from my local Mexican markets but you’re well on your way to being featured on “Taco Chronicles U.K.” I’m certain 

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On 5/24/2021 at 2:35 PM, tekobo said:

I also asked him about needing to use masa harina (dried masa flour) to get the wet masa to the right consistency.  I felt like a pregnant mum who had wanted a natural birth but ended up screaming for the epidural.  He reassured me that it was perfectly normal.  I didn't want to have to ship more masa harina over from the US and so I asked if I could make my own.  He said I could dehydrate my masa and then grind it myself. Here it is, with the bonus that the masa harina is made from the same corn as the wet masa.

Wow, great idea.

Every time I feel insecure that I'm just not as committed as tekobo, I think back on the Tomato estrattu dehydrator I built a couple of summers ago, and I relax.

We love to sous vide potatoes (cold water to 185 F = 85 C for up to two hours) then chill them, then dry them before browning in ghee. The dehydrator is great for the drying step.

Making my own masa harina? Wow.

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This working from home lark makes it easier to do mad things like this. Cooked a 500g batch of corn Tuesday morning, ground it to make wet masa yesterday morning and then left it in the dehydrator for a few hours.  Trays below show the dehydrated results.  Got back to it this morning and ground a full batch in my small spice/coffee grinder this morning.  I did try the blender but the result wasn't as fine.  400g of masa harina from 500g of corn.  Will store in the freezer to keep it fresh (as per advice from Anson Mills for their freshly milled products).  

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Posted (edited)

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My favorite kind of problem solving is to figure out who has a similar but harder problem, and to appropriate their solution.

For my most recent batch of masa, I recognized that my basic wet grinder is tuned for wet dosa and idli batter, so I ground masa that wet, drying it later in my convection oven's dehydrate cycle. It was wonderful being able to run the wet grinder unattended. However, the skins formed drying the masa never dissolved away while kneading, and I still ended up adding masa harina, in fact overcorrecting. The second night I mixed back in some water, for more tender tortillas.

Huh! @tekobo and I keep debating by messages whether to buy Masienda's Molinito. I finally saw one at an artisanal Mexican restaurant in Oakland, CA. It isn't that big, though I worry about cleanup. The ladies in the kitchen were fascinated by my interest, marveling that I made masa for friends but didn't own a restaurant. Back at my table, there was unanimous agreement that my tortillas were better, clearly same Masienda corn. Two possible explanations: It could be that the original metate is indeed the best way to grind nixtamal, and one pass through even a state-of-the-art spinning mill is no match for careful use of a wet grinder? Or I now recognize, they make their masa too dry. One ends up with the tortilla equivalent to hippy bread: It screams artisanal for those who might otherwise miss it, but is far from delicate. I can see this choice being one of convenience in a busy Mexican restaurant kitchen, just like the pervasive choice to undercook tortillas by my tastes: They need to get product out. Just as North Carolina BBQ joints have managed to convince customers that ropey, overcooked pulled pork is the breed standard, taco joints have managed to condition their customers to accept undercooked tortillas. Easy to work with masa, same story? My most delicate tortillas from wetter masa are more challenging to transfer from the press to the griddle.

So perhaps the Molinito is a suitable solution, and the differences are all in execution.

I went down a rabbit hole after reading some vendor responses on my wet grinder: The basic model is less suitable for nut butters. They make a higher end model for chocolate refining.

Chocolate refining is hard. Ding! Ding! Ding!

Diamond Custom Machines has a division Melangers dedicated to chocolate refiners. They answer their phones, if you want to discuss any of this with them. They surmise that these machines would also excel at masa; they're tuned for more viscous mixtures. They import their home models from India, made by the wet grinder manufacturer Premier. They upgrade their top home model with their own stainless steel retrofit, swapping out plastic parts for better tension control and stirring. This model has a better motor drive system than the basic wet grinder, and can be left running all day, as chocolate can require.

The basic geometry, stone wheels and container, is identical to the base model I own. Perhaps masa will still need tending. I do keep staring at the stirring system, wondering if I could improve it for masa, and perhaps they have. Certainly a better motor drive, stirring system, and tension control, could help.

I took one for the team and ordered one. I'll report back. I'll either move the basic wet grinder to my New York kitchen, or rehome it to someone just starting out.

Edited by Syzygies
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13 hours ago, Syzygies said:

I took one for the team and ordered one. I'll report back.

I like it when you do that @Syzygies.  Super interesting that this company also imports from India.  Will be interested in whether you see better results.  No chance I am diving down this rabbit hole, I promise.  I am currently having fun with pizza dough.  Got book by the guy who owns this restaurant https://www.pepeingrani.it/?lang=en and made my first batch of his pizza dough this week.  Really liked it.  A slight chew and nice, gentle puff.  Will post when I have had more of a play and may even introduce y'all to my Italian dough mixer.  

Edited by tekobo
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Posted (edited)

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Ok, we're thoroughly blown away by the upgraded wet grinder, intended for chocolate refining. I've never handled masa this smooth, and I didn't need to add masa harina to a too-wet mixture. The grinder handled masa as advertised, as if it were a nut butter.

I can't say this is unattended, just less frustrating. I poked at it in fascination, to encourage better mixing. After years of daydreaming about a better stirring mechanism, I've discovered that someone with a harder problem designed one. I can't explain (yet) this success. The motor? The stirring? Better tension control?

My next experiment will be to try this roller hardware in my old wet grinder, to see if that motor is fine driving this upgrade. They sell an upgrade kit...

When I bought my first food processor, as a grad student in 1980, I made various dubious experiments. One was to beat an egg for ten minutes, before making an omelet. The completely denatured result looked like a piece of wet suit, not exactly the ideal omelet. One could wonder the same thing here: Just as some believe one can rinse nixtamal too thoroughly (residual cal is thought to help the tortilla), one can perhaps mill masa too smoothly. This has never however been the question at home: People will try any available tool such as a VitaPrep, fix the too-wet results by working in masa harina, and declare a partial success. These proclamations of partial success are more a testament to one's psychological health than a testament to the merits of a method. Now, too smooth masa is within reach. Consider the needs of chocolate; they're beyond the needs of masa.

It would be a logical error to assume that hand grinding nixtamal on a metate stone is superior to any modern method. Still, one needs to recognize that expediency plays a role in modern equipment. I have a hard time believing that any equipment that passes nixtamal briefly through spinning stones can possibly be the equal of a long metate session (surely people were at least as obsessive centuries ago), which this duplicates. In any case, the major expense here is the time.

To be continued...

Edited by Syzygies
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Posted (edited)

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Ok, it pains me to say this, but I can't tell the difference, using the Melangers after-market stone assembly in my original Premier wet grinder compared to the upgrade model chocolate refiner. The stone assembly makes the difference; it's pure genius in any grinder in this series.

To be clear, these two grinders are virtually identical, both made in India by Premier. The chocolate refiner is said to have a better drive train, perhaps the same motor. Call Melangers if you want them to explain the details:

Premier Small Wonder Table Top Wet Grinder 1.5 Liter ,110 volts by SS Premier ($220)

PREMIER CHOCOLATE REFINER - 8LBS ($300)

Melangers has designed an upgraded stone holder, that mixes thicker mixtures like chocolate, nut butters, or masa more effectively. They sell it combined with the chocolate refiner, or separately:

PREMIER CHOCOLATE REFINER 8 LBS WITH STAINLESS STEEL STONE HOLDER ($400)

NEW STAINLESS STEEL STONE HOLDER - SMALL ($125)

I was concerned that the base model wouldn't have enough torque to drive this mechanism, but I can't tell the difference. Perhaps I could wear out the base model motor sooner, but that seems unlikely. The chocolate refiner is better for nonstop use, but that's not our application.

I'd urge anyone who now owns this Premier wet grinder to upgrade to this stone holder. (I'm happy to bounce one to @tekobo if that simplifies shipping to the UK). While one could grind a masa that needs no masa harina to dry it back out, the real goal here is to do a better job of grinding the nixtamal, with far less intervention. One should choose how much water to add to reduce tending to a couple of visits over 40 minutes (which is now more than needed), then add a couple of spoonfuls of masa harina to stiffen the mixture while the grinder is still running. Pull out a sample, dust it with a bit of masa harina, and roll it into a ball to see if the mixture looks right.

Were I starting out from scratch, I'd just buy the upgraded model from Melangers. It's net a $60 difference, and the drive train might make a difference over time. More significantly, food is part theatre. Many people who can afford high end restaurants can't actually appreciate the food to the degree the chefs can, so these places learn how to signal one is getting an exceptional experience. Betty Crocker couldn't sell cake mix till it let consumers add an egg. "Chocolate refiner" is the egg here; you've gone beyond the standard advice to use a wet grinder, because your guests really are that special.

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My other favorite part of this upgraded stone holder is better yield. The corn is inexpensive; I'm perfectly capable of accepting waste rather than fussing over scraping ever last bit of masa out of the original stone assembly. Nevertheless, masa is religious food. Just as the synthesis of ammonia and thus nitrogen fertilizer a century ago is the reason half of the 8 billion people on this planet are even alive, the invention of masa extended life expectancies in this hemisphere by a decade. People used to die when their teeth wore out. I'm spiritual but not particularly organized-religious. It just doesn't seem right to waste food in this particular instance.

The new assembly comes apart completely, as shown, It is simply not frustrating to achieve a high yield, minimal waste.

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If I've read this right @Syzygies, at $125 plus tax and postage, this will be one of the cheaper rabbit holes you have dragged me down!  🤪

Looking good.  I am OK to go for some delayed gratification.  Someone in my family will make the trip across the Atlantic within the next 6 months.  Just need to get the goods positioned in the right place for the pick up...

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Made beautiful tortillas yesterday with my current Premier mill.  It was a bit fiddly to get it running smoothly and I could not help thinking of the upgrade that @Syzygies talked about.  I guess I will appreciate it even more if/when I buy it. In the meantime here are some very tasty tortillas, made with fresh masa. 

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So for my birthday this year I received the “Masa” book by Jorge Gaviria of Masienda. I must say there is a lot of great information here should you also be climbing down this rabbit hole. Also at the suggestion of @Syzygies I upgraded my premier grinder which the new Stainless steel stone holder. I made masa twice this past week. On Tuesday (for Dia De Muertos) I made a batch of Pozole with Nixtamal that was not ground into masa and then I also made masa for tortillas to go with the Pozole. For the tortillas I ended up using the original grinder as I didn’t realize there was some assembly required that had me taking apart the grinder more than expected. So with the original set up the grinding process ended up being somewhat difficult. I wasn’t sure if this was related to the nixtamal I used? From the book I learned that in many cases it is desirable to leave some of the pericarp in tact as it acts as a binder and provides some elasticity (similar to gluten in pasta) which helps in certain masa end applications. Previous to this,  my experience was mostly washing off most if not all of the pericarp. In any event Tuesdays masa experience was a challenge at the least. On Thursday after speaking with technical assistance at Melangers (distributor and upgrade manufacturer for grinder) I was able to get the new stone placement in place. On Friday with a new batch of nixtamal with an approximate 50% of pericarp left in place (same as Tuesday) the grinding went very smoothly (pun intended). Tomorrow for the Sunday football game I plan to make freshly cooked tortilllas served with overnight brisket that I just made. I hope that I can achieve the famed “Tortilla Puff” when cooking!!! In the book they talk about in old Mexico that when a woman has achieved “Tortilla Puff” she was worthy of marriage. I still have not achieve this so my wife may be divorcing me soon!!!!

All the best,

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