May 15, 2013

The Maine Ingredient: Tortilla flat-out worth the extra effort of making your own


Making your own tortillas is a lot like making homemade pasta or bread. It's not that difficult (though you still might want to wait for a weekend night to do it), AND it's so worth the effort.

While in some parts of the country, folks can get fresh tortillas or masa and an assortment of chilies in their local grocery stores, we in Maine generally need to resort to packaged corn tortillas or make our own.

We also need to be flexible about the kind of chilies we'll use in a recipe unless we're willing to mail-order.

Over the past several years, I've been experimenting with cooking techniques from Mexico and Central America. Truthfully, until recently, I've been reticent to use chilies to any great extent in the food I create. I love spicy, I just don't love the blow-the-back-of-your-head-off feeling that comes from a haphazard and liberal use of spice.

I've also been careful to not inflict that sort of torment on the folks for whom I cook. However, in the process of playing with ingredients from south of the border, I opened a door into a world of flavor.

To make tortillas, you need either fresh masa or masa harina. In Maine, it's pretty uncommon to be able to find fresh masa -- freshly ground corn that has been processed with lime. Masa is very perishable, and needs to be used fresh.

Masa harina, dehydrated, powdered masa, is almost as good. Make sure that you are NOT buying corn meal. Masa harina is finer in grain and more regular in color than corn meal is. You can usually find it in either the specialty foods section or the bulk section of your grocery store.

You will need a tortilla press to make your own tortillas. If you have a friend who has one, maybe borrow it to make sure that it's a process you'll want to continue. In any event, the experiment is worth the effort. Give it a go!


Serve with mixed greens, brown rice, avocado slices and lime wedges if desired.


1 pound fresh haddock or other flaky white fish

Several pinches of kosher salt

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons sliced garlic, about three cloves of garlic

1/2 cup sliced red onion, about half of a small onion

Pinch more of salt

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/2 cup diced tomatoes, about half of a tomato

Lay haddock out on a platter or the butcher's paper in which it was wrapped. Salt both sides and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, the garlic and the onions. Saute until both begin to slightly brown on the edges. Add the fish and a little more salt and the black pepper. Cover and reduce heat to medium. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes without stirring. The fish is done when it is nearly opaque all the way through. Add the lime juice and tomatoes to the pan, very gently stir to break up the fish ever so slightly. Transfer to a serving bowl. Serve immediately with salsas, beans, rice and greens.

Servings: Four to six



1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup diced onions, about half of a medium onion

1 tablespoon minced garlic, about one clove

1 tablespoon minced jalapeno pepper, about half of a pepper

2 14-ounce cans pinto beans, with juices

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and pepper and saute for another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the beans and bring to a simmer. Cook down all of the liquid. When the beans begin to stick to the bottom of the pan, reduce heat and cook for another 1 or 2 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan with a spatula. Serve immediately.

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