All About Tortillas

James Baigrie

One of the nice surprises about the Tex-Mex restaurants of San Antonio is how many of them make their own tortillas—both corn tortillas (by far the most common kind in Mexico) and flour tortillas (a specialty of northern Mexico and the American Southwest, including Texas)—even if they use store-bought ones for high-volume dishes. We couldn't exist without the commercial variety ourselves (some brands are quite good)—we don't always have time to get out the tortilla press—but homemade tortillas really are better, with more flavor and a toothsome texture. And for making San Antonio's famous puffy tacos, the homemade ones are essential. Start by making our Corn Tortillas, then use the techniques below to prepare them for a variety of dishes.

CORN TORTILLAS: Heat a dry cast-iron skillet over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Cook 1 raw 5 1⁄2" tortilla at a time, turning once, until blistered and charred in spots, 1 1⁄2-2 minutes per side. As tortillas are cooked, wrap in a clean dish towel to keep warm.

TORTILLA CHIPS: Quarter 10 cooked corn tortillas (see above). Working in batches, deep-fry wedges in 350° oil, stirring frequently, until golden and crisp, 2 1⁄2-3 minutes. Drain on paper towels and season generously with salt while still hot and slightly moist.

PUFFY TACO SHELLS: For each shell, deep-fry 1 raw 4 1⁄4" tortilla disk in 350° oil, using tongs to keep it submerged and to fold in half so edges are about 2" apart. Fry until it holds its shape; stir in oil until blistered, about 3 minutes total. Drain on paper towels.

CRISPY TACO SHELLS: Warm a dry cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. For each shell, cook 1 raw 5 1⁄2" tortilla, turning often, until leathery, 2-3 minutes per side. Deep-fry in 350° oil, shaping with tongs to fold in half so edges are about 2" apart, until crisp, 2-3 minutes. Drain on paper towels.