I’ll go ahead and say it: I haven’t done a great deal of Mexican cooking in my life. But I do know what I like, and though I’m a little ashamed to say it, Tex-Mex is kinda what I know I like. I know there’s a whole other world of fantastic Mexican cuisine out there for me to try, but I spent a bigger chunk of my formative years than I’d like to admit to in Texas and it appears to have shaped my tastes. Though my acquired tastes will hopefully grow as I do something like go buy and cook from a great book or two and learn about real Mexican food, as far as I’m concerned, San Antonio will always boast the be-all end-all of Tex-Mex cuisine. The farther you get away from the city, the more precipitously the quality falls, and the first place you’ll notice it is in the tortillas.
I’m a huge tortilla snob. I went to college in San Antonio and all of my favorite places made their tortillas in-house and you could tell. Chipotle was just getting big during my time at Trinity University and even though they were like a mile away from campus and they were really, really good at finding excuses to give burritos to college students for free, I preferred several other smaller, more expensive, much farther away burrito places because of — you guessed it — the tortillas. I don’t know if they ever got their act together, but come on, you can not come in to San Antonio with tortillas that taste like they were made in a factory a thousand miles away and expect to have good things happen — well, those good things won’t happen with my wallet, at least.
After college, I lived about three hours from San Antonio, and the tortillas there? Ugh! In retrospect though, we could absolutely blame that one on the water that was used in the tortillas. (There were anecdotes about people’s pets dying after drinking the tap-water and I have a hypothesis that the huge number of dialysis centers in the town were due to the hard water. West Texas water is NASTY. If you boiled it, the steam took the form of skulls and crossbones. But I digress.)
After several years of wandering the country, I ended up back in the southwest. Luckily, my time in Arizona taught me that you can find great tortillas in other places too. Though the flour tortillas never lived up to my expectations, you could find some killer corn tortillas at places like the Sunday St. Phillip’s Plaza farmers’ market in Tucson. But, being someone who’s been attached to the military in one form or another for my entire life, I knew we wouldn’t live there forever, so it was high time I learned to make these little tasties myself so I wouldn’t have to go without.
I took my inspiration, as per usual, from Rancho Gordo. I had long ago seen a video of Steve Sando making tortillas and it seriously looked really easy. Sure, he was using a tortilla press — something that I didn’t have at the time — but how hard could it be to roll out the dough? Turned out it was pretty freakin’ hard, so I would suggest either getting the press, or using something like a cast-iron skillet to squish the dough to the desired diameter. Me, I threw out my uni-tasker rule and my kitchen now houses a solid cast-iron tortilla press and it makes everything so much easier and faster.
Having only two ingredients, tortillas are very simple, but they do take a bit of practice to actually make. The first batch or two can be very frustrating as you figure out optimal thickness, best way to hold the flattened dough, or how to deal with seeming disasters on the hot hot heat. Before two long though, you’ll hit your stride and you’ll be making fresh, delicious-tasting tortillas like a pro!