Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Tortillas De Harina

I had been putting off dealing with flour tortillas for a while. I had mistakenly though it would be fiddly work also the tortillas available in the shops here are great so I never took the time. They are small and dense, savoury with a speckling of small golden brown islands. They are nothing at all like the bready hubcaps that  I was used to from home.

They are very easy, and making them is the kind of kitchen work that involves a mix of routine and technique that is very satisfying. They require resting for a half an hour between kneading and rolling, however this is not as much of a nuisance as it sounds, it is short enough that preparing a batch of flour tortiallas on a whim is not a problem, and it is just long enough to go about preparing something to put in them when  they are done!

The conventional wisdom is that flour tortillas are most popular in the north of the country, I haven't seen enough of the country to contradict this, the only thing I have noticed is that flour tortillas seem to be more popular for breakfast tacos filled with things like chicharron or carne desherbrada, with corn tortillas being served at larger meals.

The Dough
I have tried using lard, vegetable shortening and butter. Rick Bayless recommends using a mixture of lard and vegetable shortening. Personally I find using lard alone gives the best taste and is what I use. Vegetable shortening is easy to work with but doesn't give the savoury taste lard does. Butter gives a slightly softer texture and (obviously) a nice buttery taste. I think in balance it is the better substitute if you don't have lard to hand.

The basic proportions are 5 to 1 of flour to fat. I work in 100g batches of flour, which would give 8 tortillas of about 7 inches diameter.  So for 100g of flour 20g of lard, a pinch of salt and enough warm water to bring the dough together. You won't need much water at all, just less than a quarter cup in this case, as you are aiming for a relatively tight dough, certainly nothing like the stringy mess you would have before you begin kneading a bread dough. Some recipes include some baking powder. There really is no point, the tortillas will puff up beautifully without it.

The quickest method is to cut the fat into the flour using a food processor, you can rub it in too, but the processor is much quicker. After combing the flour and lard, either in the processor or by hand, turn the mixture out into a bowl, add the water (with the salt dissolved in it) and bring together into a dough. Add just enough water to barely bring the dough together and knead the dough for a few minutes. Like I said earlier, it's not a bread dough so there is no need to break you heart kneading it, there is probably not enough water in the dough to create a lot of gluten anyway. A few minutes of kneading until you have a cohesive, homogeneous dough is plenty.

Roll the dough into a log, divide the log into eight pieces. Form each piece into a ball, roll the ball between your palm and the counter top to even it out, then flatten the ball slightly into a disk. Cover your eight little disks and leave to rest for about a half an hour.

Rolling the Tortillas
There is a knack to rolling, but it's still nothing to be intimidated by. Keep a small dish of flour in front of you as you work, keep the surface lightly floured. Take your first disk of dough and dip both sides of it into the flour, then you can begin to roll it.

The secret is to work from the centre of the disk, firstly away from you, then towards you. Work lightly, just a couple of inches at a go and rotate the disk about 1/8 of a turn each time. That's all there is to it - away a small bit, towards you a small bit and rotate a bit. Keep the board lightly dusted and flipping the disk over now and again as you work helps too. Don't go nuts, just work lightly but without hesitation. If you try to push the dough too much in a pass, you will find it impossible to make a round tortilla. You are aiming in the first full rotation to increase the size of the disk to about 3 or 4 inches then repeating the process to arrive at the final size.

Cooking the Tortillas
The tortillas cook fantastically quickly over a medium high heat, less than a minute each side depending on how hot the pan is, and often closer to 30 seconds. I use a cast iron comal, however any heavy pan would do fine. You will hear a sizzle as the tortilla is dropped on the pan and in a few moment blisters begin to form on the underside. It is very satisfying to see the tortilla begin to puff up, however I find it better to better to turn the tortilla before the smaller air bubbles begin to grow into each other and the tortilla balloons. This gives the speckling of golden brown spots that is most attractive. If you allow the tortilla to inflate completely then there will be just a single spot in direct contact with the heat. Like as with a corn tortilla you turn it twice.

You must also be careful not to allow the tortillas to overcook. You are looking for the spaces between the golden spots to retain a certain translucence and to look ever so slightly pasty.

Stash them in a tortilla warmer or wrapped in a tea towel to keep them warm. They keep pretty well in the fridge in plastic, although a small batch can be knocked together so easily there is little reason to have leftovers. I'm sure they can probably be frozen too, not that I ever had the opportunity to find out!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Machacado Con Huevo

This is another breakfast dish (apologies for hopping around so much, looking back there is less logic to the progression of posts than I would have originally hoped), Marchacado Con Huevo is a combination of onion, chile and shredded dried meat lightly fried with scrambled egg.

Carne seca is salted, dried and shredded meat, normally beef. It is available to purchase in all of the supermarkets here, however Diana Kennedy does have instructions on making your own from very thinly sliced sirloin which is salted and air dried for a few days. It sounds straightforward however it is more of a palaver than I would be prepared for. The carne seca has a rough fibrous texture, a bag of it looks more like a bag of jute than meat. It is very different from American jerky which bears a much closer resemblance to the meat it originated from.

The dish itself, like most breakfast dishes, is fast and simple. A quarter cup of diced onion is fried in a little olive oil or lard until translucent, along with somewhat less than a single finely diced serrano chile. A scant handful (about a quarter cup) of carne seca is added to this along with another quarter cup of diced tomato. The mixture is fried for a couple of minutes before adding 3 lightly beaten eggs and scrambling lightly. Don't add any seasoning until after the eggs have been added as the dried meat will have a certain amount of salt.

The machacado is served in a tortilla, flour seems to be the normal with egg based fillings, but corn tortillas work fine too.
Carne Seca

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Flautas De Pollo

Flautas, also referred to as tacos dorados are rolled tacos fried in oil until crisp (or golden I guess, given the name). There are a number of approaches, the most common seems to use a rather dry filling of shredded chicken which is rolled into quite a tight and dense roll and fried. However you also see versions where the shredded chicken is bound in either a salsa verde or a salsa roja and then rolled. The flautas are then served with some crumbled queso fresco on top and some salsa.

I'm not going to go into a huge level of detail. The preparation of both salsa verde and salsa roja cocida have been covered already so generally the dish is just and assembly of already familiar items. I'm going to cover three variations, one with no salsa in the filling, another with a salsa verde and a final one with a salsa roja.

Tacos Dorados
In this version the chicken is bound in a salsa of cooked tomatoes.The fist step is to blend a ripe tomato, a clove of garlic and about a quarter cup of onion (about a half of a smallish onion, however the onions I have here are about the size of softballs, so I normally use about 1/8 of one of those) in a blender. You may need a splash of water to get the blades spinning, it's not a bog deal as the salsa is going to be cooked out and reduced before using anyway.

This puree of tomato onion and garlic pops up again and again in Mexican cooking. We have already seen it in the preparation of Rajas and it will appear again when I cover Arroz a  la Mexicana (Mexican Rice). The puree is placed into a pan and cooked down for 10 minutes or so until the tomato has cooked out and the salsa has reduced. At this point the shredded chicken can be added and warmed through.

To assemble the flautas (flauta means flute and refers to the shape) place a heaped tablespoon of the filling on one side of a warmed corn tortilla and roll up. You can use a toothpick to secure the flauta, but it's not really necessary. They stay together fine if they are stacked with the seam downwards and they will not come apart when frying as long as they are fried for a couple of second with the seam down to allow the tortilla to crispen.
The flautas can be deep fried, if you have a deep-fryer and could be bothered, however they are fine when cooked in a half inch or so of corn oil and rotated while cooking.

If there is some salsa in the filling I like to serve them with just some crumbled queso fresco (feta would be a good substitute here), but they can also be served with salsa over the top much as an enchilada would be and can also be served with crema or guacamole.

Flautas De Pollo con Salsa Verde
Pretty similar to the preparation above except this time the chicken is bound in a Salsa De Tomate Verde Cocida. 

Flautas De Pollo
The names I am using are very arbitrary however finally we come to the simplest version, and the one most similar to what I see colleagues sometimes eat for lunch. In this case the shredded chicken is not bound with a salsa. You can add some sautéed sliced onion and pepper to the chicken. I like to use short slices, preferably less than 2 inches long, to avoid having long strings of onion flopping about as you bite the flauta.

There are a number of other possible fillings for a flauta. One suggested by Diana Kennedy is of Rajas de Poblano. The rajas would need to be drier than I have given in the earlier recipe to successfully use as a filling, however the principle is the same.

At some future point I will cover some of the other possible fillings. I'd particularly like to cover  some of the beef fillings.