Carne Asada with Homemade Tortillas
Until last weekend, I didn’t know I needed a tortilla press. Though my fondest childhood memories involve beachfront consumption of carne asada, I had never contemplated making my own tortillas.
The inspiration, as so often the case, was Judy hosting a latin-themed Friday night, egged along by a recent New York Times article on frugal Mexican meals. By the time I materialized in Judy’s kitchen, the fridge was crammed with magical bowls of spicy marinating goodness:
- Squid ceviche
- Tomatillo salsa
- Chickpea salsa
- Pico de gallo
- Flank steak
Time for tortillas. Now I know it may seem silly to make something by hand that can be had premade for pennies. I’ll admit, when we asked for masa harina in garbled grocery store Spanish, we earned more than one raised eyebrow and firm attempts to point us toward the bread aisle. But there’s something immensely satisfying about making a staple food, like pasta or bread, that’s been the heart of a culture’s meals for generations.
Masa harina, the traditional Mexican tortilla and tamale flour, is corn that’s been treated with lime and water, to soften the husks and unleash the nutrients. It was easy to come by in Brooklyn, once we overcame the store clerks’ confusion.
We mixed the masa harina with water and kneaded it with the palms or our hands until it formed a tacky dough that looked about right, given that neither of us knew what it should look like. We rolled out little balls and popped them in the tortilla press, which is nothing more than two round metal disks with a lever.
With a flick of the wrist and little magic, tortillas emerged that looked – and tasted – like the real thing. It took a few tries to get them properly thin, and we added a touch of salt and baking soda to add a little lift.
Would they pass muster in Mexico? I’m not too sure about that, but they did get the seal of approval from our 16 dinner guests, who quickly loaded them up with grilled meats and salsas and polished off every last one.
Carne Asada Marinade
2 lbs. skirt steak
3 scallions, sliced into rounds
1/4 c. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 c. soy sauce
1 t. dry mustard
1 t. ground pepper
1/2 t. ground cumin
zest of 1 lemon
Combine all ingredients. Pour into a plastic bag, mix well to coat, and marinate at least four hours (preferably overnight).
From New York Times
2 or 3 jalapeños, stemmed and halved
1 pound (about 9) tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed and quartered
1 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro stems and leaves
1 clove garlic
1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
Taste a bit of a jalapeño to check heat level. If it seems too mild, use 3 peppers. Combine all ingredients plus 2 tablespoons water in a blender. Pulse a few times before blending into a purée. Add a bit more water if needed: the salsa should be pourable. Serve. Salsa can be stored in a tightly covered container in refrigerator for up to a week.
Fresh Corn Tortillas
Masa harina (treated corn flour, available in Latin markets)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
In a large bowl, mix 2 cups of masa flour, a pinch of salt and baking soda. Add 1 1/2 to 2 cups of very warm water to the masa flour (according to the directions on the package, some brands may call for different amounts of water). Mix in and let sit for 5 minutes or so. Knead the dough for several minutes. If at any point through the tortilla making process the dough seems too dry or too wet, add a little more water or masa to the dough.
Take a piece of the masa dough and shape it into a ball the size of a plum. Make about 16-18 balls from the dough.
Cut two pieces of wax paper to the shape of the surface of the tortilla press. Press the dough flat between the papers. (You can also roll out the masa with a rolling pin, between pieces of wax paper.)
Cook in a hot skillet with a touch of oil until warm, about 2 minutes.