Masa Class

Slow Food Austin hosted a class on masa at The Natural Epicurean recently. I showed up to learn about masa and to whet my appetite by spending time in the kitchen where I’ll soon be spending my days.

Hector Gonzalez, a cook who also teaches private classes, showed us how dried corn is boiled with chemical lime to remove the insoluble husk around each kernel of corn. This process is called nixtamalization. Wikipedia cites multiple benefits to this process: the corn “is more easily ground; its nutritional value is increased; flavor and aroma are improved; and mycotoxins are reduced.”

Below: Hector Gonzalez in the teaching kitchen of The Natural Epicurean.

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He then food-processed the corn kernels into a paste, which he rolled into about 3″ spheres. He pressed the spheres three times gently with a tortilla press. Then he placed the uncooked masa disk onto a flat steel surface, heated by direct flame. After about three to five minutes, the result was the most tender, full flavored, warm, and fresh corn tortilla I ever ate. I would have loved to take that tortilla and fill it with some cumin-y black beans, onion, and cabbage slaw. Yum!

Below: Warm, fresh corn tortilla. It’s like eating a warm ear of corn right off the stalk.

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Hector shared with us that his grandmother used to get up at 5 am each day to bring 10 pounds of corn to a mill to be fresh ground — that is how important it was to have fresh tortillas each day.

Hector also cooked cocoa-pepper tortillas, cilantro tortillas, and a couple others I cannot recall. What a great introduction to this important and traditional craft!

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Below: Hector grinding the nixtamalized corn into a paste. In the “old” days, this was done with a heavy stone. According to Hector, it was back-breaking work, but the output is something that was – and still is – vital to the everyday diet of Mexicans.

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Below: Cocoa spiced tortilla wedge. There are many different things you can do with masa, according to Hector, and this is just one example.

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