Store bought masa preparada vs scratch made
After a few restaurant meals made with great homemade tortillas, I'm intrigued by the possibility of making my own with readily available store bought prepared masa. Does it make tortillas comparable to those made from scratch AND much better than packaged tortillas? Hey, I've got a cast iron frying pan and can get a tortilla press easy.
when you say prepared masa, are you referring to the kind that is ready to use (i.e., you don't have to add water to) and usually in a clear plastic bag of some sort? I tried one of these once and was really disappointed. Too much acidity which made it all taste off. Looking at the ingredients, I noticed it had some preservatives in it too, so it wasn't any fresher than what I could make with reconstituted masa harina. If you are in an area with a big mexican population, try a local tortilleria and they'll almost always have masa on hand to buy. It will be fresh and a better quality than the store-bought masa preparada.
Now... if you are like me and NOT in an area with a big mexican population, you'll have to rely on the dried masa harina. I've actually had a lot of luck with it. And, to answer your question of whether it is better than packaged, the answer is YES!!!! Packaged corn tortillas are generally just so pitiful its depressing. To make your own tortillas, add warm water to the masa, knead it. Add more water than they call for. It should be a little sticky.
Make a little round ball, put it between two sheets of plastic and press it in the tortilla press (if you don't have one, use the bottom of a plate and finish it off with a rolling pin). Then put it on a hot, dry griddle. It should sizzle ever so slightly. After about 20 seconds (when the edges curl up a bit), flip it. I think the key is to make a bunch, stacking them when done in a dish towell (or tortilla warmer). After a minute or so, they all get flexible. It's pure heaven.
Actually, I'm in Northern Mexico aka Los Angeles County with a TON of alternatives. I plan to use the ready-to-use masa (in a bag) from places that I know have high turnover of it. Good tip on the preservatives but I'm surprised about the acid taste (could be a bad batch made by careless employee).
If you search the many 'tortilla' threads here you'll find concurrence that most nationally distributed brands suck; some of the local ones are also owned by megacorps but they can be noticeably better. Thanks!
good luck. the only time I tried it, I bought it from a Gigante supermarket near Fullerton. I would have thought that it would have had a high turnover, but oh well. Must have chosen a poor brand. If it doesn't turn out well, try a tortilleria (there are some in east la) or dried masa. It's actually very good...
Use the masa harina. You can control moisture and texture a bit in ways that fit you, while you learn to turn out tortillas in quantity.
I've just come across the next-best thing... because I don't think that I'd get much of my own satisfaction from making my own tortillas honestly. However, my local grocery chain actually makes fresh tortillas at one of their locations. I bought a pack just a few days ago, and I don't think I'm EVER going back to the prepackaged brands. What's even more exciting is that they don't only have plain, but they also have whole wheat and cinnamon sugar. Mmmmm. The one store is a little out of my way, but I'm considering making it my permanent grocery stop on the tortillas alone. So, maybe there's a grocery store in your town, Mexican or otherwise, that you can purchase fresh tortillas from? Hooray for the next-best thing!
If you live in Los angeles, I would just find a good supplier and get them there premade.
We live in the Bay Area and I have used prepared masa, very fresh, still warm off the press, and it is good, but I find that if I get fresh tortillas (most of the time, they are still warm when I pick them up or made that day), they are just as good. It just wasn't worth the work to make them at home. The key is getting fresh tortillas with no preservatives, IMO.
We keep masa harina around for emergencies, and many folks like the flavor of that, but it isn't the same as fresh masa.
BUT if you want to make your own tortillas, by all means do it. It isn't hard, and to just try it out you can roll the tortillas or pat them by hand. We have a press, and the key with a press is to rotate the torilla press again, or several times.