Starch Madness

The gods are benevolent.  And, evidently, a little glycemic.

Because there is really no reason that mortals are worthy of blue corn.  It should not exist.

In fact, it nearly didn’t.   Most of the species of blue corn were first grown by the Hopi-  superior dryland farmers who managed to provide staple crops, with little or no irrigation, to a large and complex civilization, within the most agriculturally unforgiving area of the continent.

Think about that for a minute.

Zea mays is almost infinitely adaptive, and downright promiscuous in how it shares its genome.  But between industrialized agriculture (blue corn has a lower yield and less pest resistance than many modern corn hybrids) and simple genetic drift, many varieties that were common a hundred years ago are now extinct.  And ones that remain are often threatened 

But forget about all of that.  You should eat it because it’s worth eating. Blue corn isn’t impossible to find (I obtained mine at Jungle Jims) and there are many worthwhile internet sources… I have to give a shoutout to Native Seeds, who does more to preserve Native American foodways than anyone else I know.

And, as I mentioned, blue corn is amazing stuff.  It has about 20%-30% more protein than yellow corn, with a slighty lower glycemic index. And there is nothing like the way it tastes – - as familiar as corn on the cob, but with such a more rounded flavor profile – meatier and nuttier and richer and sweeter, with a pleasantly faint ferrous quality to it.

Permit me a clumsy musical analogy – eating blue corn for the first time must have been similar to dirt farmers from rural Mississippi, growing up with Delta Blues, traveling up to Chicago in the 1930s for a factory job, and then listening to Muddy Waters play.  You recognize it, but it’s never been that powerful.

So, tortillas.

This is not so much a recipe as it is a method.  It involves judgment, risk, patience, and the delicate balancing act of structure versus flavor.

I don’t mean to overcomplicate this.  You’re going to submerge corn meal in boiling water, add a bit of salt, and allow the meal to hydrate for a while.  You will add an indeterminate quantity of flour (or not), form the mixture into little balls, roll the balls into disks, and cook these disks briefly on a lightly oiled hot surface.

But the grind of your corn and your own tortilla preferences – which I assume will be dictated as much by your tastes as by your choice of filling – will vary.  So I will try to be both specific and accommodating:

Start with about a cup of blue corn meal.

Add about 1/2 cup of boiling water and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

Stir to combine.Cover tightly.

Allow the mixture to sit for 30 minutes.  This will allow the meal to soften and hydrate, and obviously, will bring it to a workable temperature.

As it stands now, the mixture will be almost TOO intense, and will fall apart rather easily if rolled out to tortilla-like thickness.  But if you wish to cook them at this point, go for it without adding any flour…

However, I add flour. About a tablespoon at a time, until big spoonfulls of the dough can be rolled out into 1/4 inch disks.

Here is a tip for staging tortillas.  Use two cutting boards.  first cutting board should be covered in flour, the second, only in additional cornmeal.

You will also need a chef’s knife, and a skillet.  I would actually recommend you NOT use cast iron here, I want to use lower heat and will have to spend time dusting excess starch out of the pan before the starch burns.

So, roll out the disks to about 1/4 of an inch.  Go thinner if you like them crunchier, but structural integrity may be challenged.  Use the back of your knife to scrape the tortillas onto the second cutting board, the one covered in the abrasive (and therefore slippery!) blue corn meal, and slide these into your lightly oiled skillet.  Cook for about 3 or four minutes on each side.  They will blister a little bit, which is fine.

This is one of the few times that a pound or two of braised fatty pork shoulder will be an afterthought. Chop it up, reheat, place over your tortillas with a little bit of cilantro and tomatoes…

No Mas.  It is time for tacos.

3 thoughts on “Starch Madness

  1. You have made some amazing meals for me but this was one of the best- simple, but DELICIOUS. And you make it sound easy enough that I might actually try to do it myself…

  2. leave it to you, jeff, to tackle on such a cooking endeavor. and leave it to you to do it so flipping well. have you made this with yellow corn before?

    also, i have half a bag of masa harina, would i be able to use that to make this?

  3. Sara – It’s always fun cooking for you. Visit again soon.

    Lan – I’ve made tortillas with yellow corn several times, and masa harina is the ideal “starch” to use for them. Another option, if you are feeling sassy, is arepas, basically patties which you can use like sandwich buns and fill with… anything.