Tips for the perfect tortilla?
November 19, 2010 11:44 AM   Subscribe

How can I warm my store-bought corn tortillas, and yet keep them pliable and strong?

Perhaps you know the problem? You come home with the 6 inch stack of corn tortillas from the local tienda, which are very fresh, pliable, and delicious. You put them on the griddle to warm, put some carnitas and onion on top, and your taco starts flaking apart before you get it to your mouth...

Empirical study of the tortilla by itself shows that the consistency definitely changes with just a little heat. Do I have to steam rather than use the griddle? If so, does anybody know a quick and easy way to do that without requiring special cookware?
posted by MisterMo to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If they're truly fresh, you should warm them until really hot but not toasted on a dry griddle (I use a frying pan) then wrap them in a clean dish towel. Do a few at a time this way so they stack. They sort of steam themselves that way without getting too soggy.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:46 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Our tortilla warmer is awesome. You don't need a stone warmer. Plastic works just fine and is ridiculously cheap.

It's a cheap way to warm up store-bought tortillas: throw them into the warmer with a wet paper towel. Microwave for a minute or so and the warmer will keep them warm and pliable for an hour or longer.

It also works great with homemade tortillas — and pancakes, too. Handy gadget.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:50 AM on November 19, 2010

Best answer: I "steam" mine in the micro. I'll fold a damp paper towel loosely around a small stack and heat for 10-15 seconds. It's just enough moisture to keep them pliable.
posted by pineapple at 11:50 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I toss them on the gas burner for a few seconds, flip once, no more than 4-5 seconds per side.
posted by electroboy at 11:54 AM on November 19, 2010 [6 favorites]

Try dipping them in water and then tossing them on your griddle.
posted by ssg at 11:56 AM on November 19, 2010

I also do the gas burner thing.
posted by grapesaresour at 11:59 AM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

You can also add a little bit of oil to them to increase their pliability.
posted by crunchtopmuffin at 11:59 AM on November 19, 2010

America's Test Kitchen/Cooks Illustrated sprayed both sides with cooking spray, put them on a cookie sheet, and put them in the oven for five or ten minutes at 300 (you should check them after 5 and then adjust time based on your oven). They said that keeps them from cracking when you fold them.

I've done the damp towel microwave technique described above, but depending on how long you want them pliable, you may have to repeat a couple of times or do it in small batches.

When I make tacos:

I heat veggie oil in a skillet
Move the tortilla round in the skillet so it gets a good coating and fry for a minute or two
Flip and repeat above
Using tongs, fold the tortilla in half loosely so it has a loose taco shape
Put on paper towel covered plate.

If you have especially thin tortillas, you might need to cook until it gets a little crispy (but still soft) so it stands up better. It may take a few tries to get this down, but the results are delicious.
posted by Kimberly at 12:02 PM on November 19, 2010

I do the exact same thing as pineapple.

Microwave with layers of damp paper towel in between (as well as on the bottom and top of the stack).
posted by royalsong at 12:04 PM on November 19, 2010

Gas burner. No pan, just directly on the flame for 5-10 seconds or so; when they start toasting they're done.

If you need to heat more tortillas than you have burners, you can put a tortilla on the burner, put another tortilla on top and flip the stack, pause, add a tortilla and flip the stack, etc, until you've done enough.
posted by ook at 12:09 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Rick Bayless (my go-to source on stuff like this) says to use a tortilla warmer as BP mentioned (yep, handy and super cheap) with a just-barely-damp tea towel. Nuke for a 30-60 seconds, then let stand for a minute.

Without a tortilla warmer, do the same thing with a large-enough ziploc bag that's folded over, not sealed.
posted by supercres at 12:11 PM on November 19, 2010

When I worked at a Mexican restaurant we'd spray both sides with water, then put them on the griddle.
posted by cmoj at 12:12 PM on November 19, 2010

I "steam" mine in the micro. I'll fold a damp paper towel loosely around a small stack and heat for 10-15 seconds. It's just enough moisture to keep them pliable.
posted by pineapple at 2:50 PM on November 19 [+] [!]

posted by caddis at 12:12 PM on November 19, 2010

* just-barely-damp and clean tea towel
posted by supercres at 12:13 PM on November 19, 2010

For soft tacos, I wrap up the tortillas in paper towels until the towel layer is basically two thick, and then put the bundle on a plate. Then I wet my hand under the faucet, then flick the excess water onto the paper towels (I might do a couple rounds of this). Then I put another plate on top so that I've basically got a plate sandwich with tortilla/damp paper towel filling, which I then put in the microwave. You get a feel for how long they need to be in the microwave, but I think I normally go a minute for 4 small corn tortillas.

For burritos, I have a griddle on a stove burner turned to low. I put the tortilla on the griddle and start filling it up. Usually by the time I'm done with that the tortilla is warm enough to roll up without causing problems.
posted by LionIndex at 12:23 PM on November 19, 2010

I mostly use the Bayless-recommended technique mentioned above (microwave in a stack, wrapped in a damp paper towel, in a not-sealed Ziplock bag). But if the tortillas are still pretty fresh, I do something else (also mentioned by Bayless somewhere, I think): get a little water on your hands, and grab a stack of about 5 tortillas (sandwiching them between your hands so that the top and bottom ones get slightly moist). Toss the whole stack on a hot griddle, leave it there very briefly (like 5-10 seconds), flip, leave on for another few seconds, and you're done. The water from the top and bottom tortillas sort of steams the others in the stack a little, so the texture is not-quite-steamed, but better (imho) than what you get from just tossing each individual tortilla on the griddle.
posted by chalkbored at 12:32 PM on November 19, 2010

Splash of water + hot pan (griddle, etc.) for a few seconds. I tried this after seeing it done at several local taco stands. The tortillas are much more pliable and resilient afterwards. Bonus: use two torillas per taco for more taco stand authenticity (also helps them hold up better).
posted by imposster at 12:41 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I can confirm that the only appropriate way to deal with heating tortillas is on the open flame of a burner. Then they are bundled into a waiting dishtowel in a basket, so they retain some heat. The thing about buying tortillas CORRECTLY, as you are doing, is that they are not really entirely cooked. I like mine slightly blackened in places.

I find that when white people come over on taco night they overstuff and overpile. Don't overfill your tortillas. That's how you get to have more tacos, which means, more tortillas!
posted by RJ Reynolds at 12:57 PM on November 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everybody - I just tried it with today's new batch of carnitas, and a little water is clearly the key. Since I am stuck with an electric range, I'll do the microwave thing with a tortilla warmer. (Although I do endorse RJ's "don't overstuff" regimen and I believe that water + direct flame would be toastier and delicious.)
posted by MisterMo at 2:27 PM on November 19, 2010

I don't have a microwave, and agree that the tortilla as it comes from the store isn't fully done and needs a little more browning. I heat a cast-iron skillet and lay the tortillas in one by one, and then move them to a warmed ceramic dish with a kitchen towel in it to stay warm until service. This works beautifully.
posted by Miko at 9:00 PM on November 19, 2010

« Older How do you know when to stop/take a break with...   |   Your work is unacceptable...but anyway, what are... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.