I cleaned a whole bunch of bags of chicken and turkey carcasses, beef bones, pork bones, and assorted meat trimmings out of the freezer earlier this week. We need to make room in there, at least, we hope we do. We may or may not have a really good reason to need space. So, in case all goes as planned (I’ll tell you after – don’t want to jinx it), we’ve been eating from the freezer as much as we can.
I sorted the bones and trimmings according to animal, and got three pots of stock going. It’s a multi-day process – I’ll finally be pressure canning all the concentrated, strained liquids today – and after the first day of cooking, we salvaged the beef and chicken from the pots.
After many hours of simmering, the meat is completely flavorless, but it’s still usable, with plenty of seasoning. Our favorite thing to do with trimmings such as these? Tacos!
So while Bill doctored all the shredded meat with cumin and coriander and crushed tomatoes and garlic and other seasonings, I made flour tortillas.
The recipe I used is based on Diana Kennedy’s in her wonderful book The Art of Mexican Cooking.
Tortillas are really easy to make. They just take a little planning, a little time. But they’re so worth it.
Just four ingredients – flour, fat, water and salt. In this case, I used 2/3 white AP flour, and 1/3 whole wheat flour. I used vegetable shortening, but eventually I’d like to have a stockpile of rendered lard available instead.
The first thing, besides whisking the flours together if you’re using two kinds, is to work the fat into the flour. I’m sure you could use a food processor or stand mixer, but you can also go the old-fashioned route and use your good ol’ hands.
With your fingers, work the fat into the flour. I just lightly smush flour and fat together between my fingers a bit, then drop that and grab some more, fluffing everything together as you go. It’ll take a bit of time, but gradually the pieces of fat will get smaller and smaller as they blend with the flour. Once you don’t have any big pieces left, and the flour looks a bit like damp sand, you’re done.
At this point, dissolve the salt in the water and pour a little over the flour. Use a fork to toss the mixture together, adding water a little at a time, until the mixture holds together when you squeeze some in your hand. You can do this on the counter or while everything’s still in the bowl. Your choice. Once it clumps together, though, I prefer to dump it all out on the counter. Kneading’s easier on the counter than in a bowl.
Gather the shaggy dough into a ball and knead until you’ve got a smooth, elastic dough. It’s going to feel different from bread dough – kind of heavier and sort of like plastic. Or wax. Don’t worry about it, though – that’s because of the high fat to water ratio. Just knead.
I cut the ball into about 24 pieces weighing between 1.8-2.1 oz each. The more pieces you have, the smaller your tortillas will be. At this point, the little balls of dough need to rest. You’ve been working the dough a lot so far, and those gluten strands are all tight and tense. They need to relax so the balls of dough will be easier to roll into tortillas. So cover the gang with some plastic or a very slightly damp towel (or you could just invert the mixing bowl over them all) and let them nap for anywhere from 20-40 minutes.
Next – using a rolling pin or thick dowel or broom handle, roll each ball out (no need to flour the counter, they won’t stick) to about 6” in diameter. Then take the flattened piece of dough and drape it over your cupped hands (knuckles up, and either remove rings or twist them so prongs face your palms) and gently but firmly stretch the dough outward from the middle – like you would to stretch pizza dough. Alternate this type of stretching with gentle stretching around the outer edges of the dough. You want a uniform thinness.
Don’t be afraid to pull firmly. The gluten strands hold the dough together. If you pull too quickly, though, you can rip the dough. And that’s okay, too. Just press the edges back together again and keep going.
The finished tortilla will be roughly 4” wider in diameter than when you first rolled them out. Layer them on a plate or platter or something as you go. You could cook them as you make them, but I prefer to get one part of the job done at a time. I’m not quite quick enough to roll and stretch one in the (very short) amount of time it takes to cook a tortilla.
To cook them, heat a dry pan or griddle over medium to high heat. Give it time to get nice and hot. Don’t use a non-stick pan – you’ll be releasing all sorts of noxious fumes into the air.
Lay one tortilla in the pan – you should hear a sizzling sound when you do, if the pan is hot enough. The tortilla may start bubbling up in places – gently press it down so it cooks evenly on that side. Within a very short time (a minute, give or take, depending on how hot your pan is), the first side will have browned nicely. Flip the tortilla over and continue cooking. This side will take less time. Remove the tortilla from the pan and start the next one. Wrap the tortillas in a towel to keep them warm as you cook, and to keep them from drying out.
Keep in mind you don’t want to overcook the tortillas – they’ll become crisp and won’t wrap; they’ll snap. And that’s fine if you want to dip them in salsa, but not so fine if you want to make tacos or fajitas.
Now, if you only use white flour, your tortillas won’t look as tan as mine to. If you use a higher ratio of whole wheat, yours will probably be darker. As long as they’re warm and pliable, it’s all good.
Fill them whatever way you like.
Recipe is below.
That’s the board I’d used to layer the uncooked tortillas. The fat created the pattern, which I think looks a bit like a pansy or other four-petal flour.
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup vegetable shortening or lard
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
What to do:
Whisk together the two flours in a bowl. Using your fingers (or the electric device of your choice), work the fat into the flour until the whole things looks like slightly damp sand.
Add the salt to the water and dissolve. Pour water over flour mixture a little at a time, mixing with a fork as you go. When most of the water has been added, squeeze some of the shaggy mixture in your hand. If it stays together easily, you are all set. If it doesn’t, add a little more water and keep mixing.
Turn the rough dough onto a board or countertop and knead until you’ve got a smooth, cohesive, slightly elastic ball of dough. Cut the ball into 24 small pieces (more if you want smaller tortillas, fewer if you want great honking big ones), roll these into little balls, cover with plastic or an inverted bowl and let them rest from 20 to 40 minutes.
Roll each ball into a roughly 6” circle. Then, using your knuckles, start stretching the dough into a larger circle. Pull the edges to stretch to the same thinness as the middle part. It may feel strange at first, but you’ll get the hang of it.
Heat a dry pan or griddle to high or medium-high (don’t use non-stick) and cook each tortilla about a minute on the first side and about 30 seconds on the second. Stack the tortillas in a bowl and wrap with a towel to keep them warm and soft. (Add them in as you go, so they don’t cool and stiffen.)