Wednesday, 16 December 2009


Everyone is familiar with the quesadilla of cheese and some other fillings, sandwitched between two flour tortilas and grilled. I have been served quesadillas like this, with just a cheese filling, as a snack in some of the bars here in Mexico, however I'd like to deal with quesadillas made with corn masa or with corn tortillas.

The Cheese
A good melting cheese is important.The mexican equivalent of mozzarella is Oaxaca cheese, which has a similar texture and also comes in a ball, but it is made from a long ribbin of tightly wrapped cheese. It is white and becomes stringy and rubbery when meltedmuch like mozzarella.

The classic filling seems to be just cheese, however I also like to use chicken or tuna. Tuna is especially nice in a quesadilla made using tortilla. 

Using Corn Tortillas
This is the easiest method of all and one I often see employed by colleagues here, a corn tortilla is warmed enough to make it flexible, filled then folded over and grilled.

You need little or no oil, the tortilla will take quite a pounding on the grill before it burns and it becomes crunchy with a slight chewiness.

Using Masa
Quesadilla made with masa are very different from those constructed from prepared tortillas.

The procedure is as follows: Press the masa into a tortilla, lift it from the tortilla press and remove the plastic from one half ot the tortilla. Fill the tortilla using the plastic to hold it, then fold over and seal the edges of the escalope formed using the plastic.

The quesadilla can then be fried in an inch of hot oil.

These have more in common with a pasty than they have with the common idea of a quaesadilla, the masa is light and crunchy on the outside, soft inside and then meets the melted cheese. They are not as oily as one would expect them to be - the oil does need to be kept quite hot, but not smoking, the masa brown quickly and if the oil is too hot the outside will have browned before the cheese has melted or the masa on the inside has cooked.  The quesadilla needs careful handling while cooking, they are very fragile, it's a good idea to turn onto the uncooked side (I am assuming thery are being fried in an inch of oil rather then deep fried) promptly to make a complete crust around the outside to make then easier to manipulate in the pan.

There is a temptation to make a relatively thick tortilla however this gives a rather heavy, stodgy quaesadilla.It is better to press the masa to a normal thickness and to work carefully.

Some recipes add both baking powder and lard to the masa. The lard makes the tortilla flaky and the baking powder adds lightness. The end result is certainly nicer, althought the idea of adding lard to something about to be deep fried.....It also seems like a lot of elaboration for something which is just a quick snack.

I have tried these cooked in corn oil, olive oil and soya oil.

Corn oil would be the traditional choice, it is fairly neutral tasting and works very well. Olive oil works well too but can't hold the heat as well as the corn oil. There is little difference in taste whether corn or olive oil are used.

Soya oil is popular here, if the quantities on the shelves in the shops are any indicator. I think the taste is revolting. The quesadilla cooked in it had a very unplesant off-putting smell and taste.

Grilling using Masa
There are also recipes where the masa is cooked on a comal rather than fried in oil. The procedure here is to cook one side of the tortilla then filling and floding over and sealing the edges of the uncooked side together.

I really can't see the advantage of this method. The resulting quesadilla has neither the crunchy chewy texture of on made from a prepared tortilla or the oily comfort food appeal of a fried one.

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