Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Mexican flour tortillas (Not a challenge recipe!)

We recently visited Boquillas del Carmen in Mexico; a very secluded little town located by the Rio Grande, just across the river from Texas. 

Boquillas survives on the income derived from a river crossing which is accessed via Big Bend National Park. The crossing of the river is undertaken in a small rowboat, which is followed by a trip to town in the form of a walk, a drive or a gentle ride on a burro (donkey). Of course we rode burros! 

We were looked after by a lovely young man by the name of Abraham, who walked us around the town and told us a bit about its people and its history. Allowing a guide to look after you while visiting is one of the ways the town is supported, with guides earning tips from the "tour" they provide. Spending some time with Abraham was a wonderful aspect of our day and we were thrilled that he joined us for lunch at the wonderful Boquillas restaurant. 

We ate many tortillas whilst in America, but none were a patch on the ones served to us at Boquillas Restaurant. Their version had the most unbelievably flaky texture and almost melted in your mouth. Not a simple feat for a dough based item! I have simply never eaten anything like them and while I would like to say that the ones I made were as good, I am afraid they were not. Don't get me wrong, I was thrilled with how these came out but I am ranking them firmly behind the only truly Mexican tortillas I am ever likely to experience. 

Of course I lugged my new tortilla press home from Boquillas (because is there anything better than a tortilla press all the way from Mexico?) and it was instrumental in helping me to make my very first quesadillas for dinner last night. 

I found multiple "authentic" recipes on the internet and of course I slightly tweaked what I found and came up with the following. I also saw many a blog post on the useless nature of a tortilla press (compared to using a rolling pin) and I couldn't disagree more with their assertion. I have made somewhere in the vicinity of 1,000 flatbreads in my time (possibly a slight exaggeration) and have always flattened them using a rolling pin. After making this batch of tortillas, my view is that not only does the press create beautiful round and elegantly thin tortillas (important for quesadillas!), it is also incredibly fast to use and meant that I was not running between the stove and the table (where I usually roll) as I cooked. For somebody who usually despises useless kitchen gadgets, I am 100% convinced that this purchase was sound.  

For anybody looking to make their own tortillas, here is my version. I do, however, reserve the right to make amendments to this as time goes on! 

Tortilla recipe (makes 16)
2.5 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 tsp bi-carb
1/4 cup lard
1.3 tsp lemon juice
1 cup very warm water

1. Combine flour, salt & bi-carb in a bowl. Stir well. 

2. Add lard (I used duck fat saved from a roast duck dinner) and rub through with your fingers until it has disappeared into the flour.

3. Add lemon juice and the water (slowly) all the time mixing with a butter knife. There may not be a need to add all of the water - you just need enough until the dough has come together but is not sticky. 

4. Gently knead into a ball and then shape into 16 smaller balls, each one a little bigger than a golf ball.

5. Leave to rest under a tea towel for one hour. 

6. Set yourself up with a small frypan. The small pan will allow the heat to be trapped in a "bubble" to cook within, whereas a larger pan will make the edges of the tortilla too cold and the lovely puffy bubbles you will be seeking will not appear. Heat the pan to a little over medium and allow the pan to become very warm before inserting your first tortilla.

7. Set the tortilla press up on the bench, very close to the frying pan. Place a ball in the very centre of your press (I covered mine with baking paper top and bottom) and press down very hard. Hold for a few seconds and then gently remove the raw tortilla and place it straight into the pan. If you have rested your dough for long enough it should hold its size and not spring back on itself. 

8. As the first tortilla is cooking, flatten a second tortilla in the press, holding it flat for at least a good few seconds. 

9. Cook the first tortilla until puffy bubbles have formed and when you take a peek underneath, none of the dough looks raw. Flip it over and fry until just cooked. 

10. Remove tortilla and keep warm inside a clean tea towel or a cloth bag designed to store ham (my preference!)

11. Repeat and enjoy.

My first batch of tortillas were made into mouth watering chicken, cheese, capsicum and onion quesadillas, but of course the tortilla options are endless.

On the Texan side of the river, looking over to Mexico

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