Tortillas, Tamales, and Corn Chips

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Tortillas are made by forming finely ground masa into thin sheets, then quickly cooking them, traditionally on a hot pan for a minute or two, now in continuous commercial ovens for 20–40 seconds. Tamales are small cakes of masa that enclose a filling, and are traditionally formed in the papery husks of corn ears and steamed. The dough is moistened with a broth and enriched, flavored, and aerated by beating it thoroughly with lard. The lard is semisolid at room temperature and helps lubricate the masa materials and trap air bubbles in a fluffy mass that expands during steaming. And fried chips are made both from tortillas and directly from masa. Tortilla chips are made by deep-frying tortillas, while corn chips are made by forming strips of lower-moisture, coarse masa and then deep-frying them.