Last year my good friend Rick Edwards grew a bunch of Oaxacan Green Dent corn with the intent of grinding it and making grits and cornmeal. I made grits and I made cornmeal and corn bread and corn bread soup and corn meal tamales and more grits. I didn't even make a dent in the 45 pounds of shelled corn he gave me and my freezer is still packed with 2 pound bags of green corn kernels. I thought about making tortillas but the word Nixtamalization kept me from trying.
Nixtamalization is a big word, a scary word and it intimidated me into thinking that I didn't want to try it. As it turns out Nixtamalization is harder to pronounce than it is to perform. The Nixtamal process is a way to process corn kernels to remove the outer shell of the corn and make Masa
. Masa is the wet dough made from corn that is used to make tamales and tortillas. the process is ridiculously simple and not at all as intimidating as I thought it would be. Basically you soak the dried corn in an alkaline solution either wood ash or calcium hydroxide (lime). I used the lime as it was easier to get, a 1 pound bag cost about $2.50 and can be found in most stores with the canning supplies.
For a 2 pound batch of dried corn you need to dissolve 1/4 cup of calcium hydroxide in 3 quarts of water. Then you add the corn and put it on the stove and bring it to a boil and cook for 15 minutes. I let mine sit in the fridge over night and the next morning I rinsed the corn in a colander and then put it back in the stock pot and filled it with cold water. using my hands I rubbed the corn for about 5 minutes and then rinsed it in the colander again. I repeated that process 7 or 8 times until all the little parts of skin were gone and the water I poured onto the corn was clear. That is pretty much it, at that point you basically have hominy and if you put the corn into a pot with water and salt and cook it for 30 minutes it puffs up slightly and is delicious and sweet.
If you want to continue the process and make Masa then you will need to grind the nixtamalized corn. This is where I had a problem. I have a mill for grinding corn but my mill only grinds dry corn and you need a special mill to grind the wet corn. I read everything I could and it seemed like I was shit out of luck until I read about using a food processor. It is possible to grind the wet corn in a food processor but apparently it doesn't do as good of a job as a masa mill. The first batch of corn I ground I kind of messed up because I added to much water to the processor. and the masa was to wet to form into balls so I had to add corn to dry it out a little and in doing that it didn't grind the kernels as fine as I wanted. On the second batch I ground the corn really well before adding any water and then slowly added water until the dough formed a ball in the food processor. This seemed to work really well and I ended up with a perfect masa that was all ready for making tortillas. I added a generous pinch of salt to the dough as I was processing it.
To make the tortillas you just take a chunk of masa and roll it into a ball about the size of a golf ball. Place the masa between two pieces of saran wrap and then press it flat. They sell tortilla presses and if you are going to be making a lot of tortillas I can see how they would be handy but they aren't mandatory. I made a dozen tortillas in about 10 minutes just using a book to press down on top of the ball of dough to flatten it. You could use a rolling pin as well. once the dough is flat all you have to do is cook the tortillas in a very lightly oiled pan for about 30 seconds on each side over medium high heat.
The end result was hands down the best corn tortilla I have ever had. It was the perfect texture and the sweet nuttiness of the corn really stood out. I will most definitely be making a lot of tortillas in the future.