Conquering my fear of Fresh Masa and freezing questions
If I take one golden lesson from Bayless's cookbook of the month, it will be that masa preparada makes magic. Truth be told, fresh masa used to intimidate me; I had no idea what to do w/ it. I never really understood that the hard work of grinding the corn and mixing it w/ other ingredients til it was a smooth paste had already been done for me. This is a ready-to-use item after all.
So I've been having fun w/ that 7 lb. bag of masa I purchased for gorditas. View my gordita report here:
Photo of bag of masa:
My favorite use for it has been making fresh tortillas for quesadillas. I was worried after I came home and realized I accidentally bought masa para tamales, but these have worked great for tortillas; the lard adds a wonderful nuttiness and creaminess that enhances the toasty corn. The result is so tasty that husband and I think we're developing a physiological addiction to masa.
I don't have a tortilla press, but have found that pressing the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap w/ my rolling pin has worked just fine for my small batches. At first, the process was a terrible mess and raised my blood pressure w/ the dough sticking, tearing, buckling in the pan, etc. I wanted very tender and supple tortillas so didn't want to compromise by drying them out w/ too much flour. Let's just say that one time I had a little tortilla tantrum that sent flour flying everywhere. :-)
After a few times though, I got the rhythm down. I began to acquire a feel for how much flour prevented sticking, how thin I could push it, how to carefully peel off the plastic w/o tearing the dough, how to gently lay them in the pan, etc.
Photo of tortilla griddling:
Unlike Bayless's suggestion to use two pans (one hot and one cooler), I prefer to keep it simple and use one pan. They usually puff up a little as they get hot. For quesadillas, I add the cheese filling after flipping once. A combo of creamy monterey jack w/ sharp anejo is very nice. I then fold them in half to get half moon shapes. Unlike typical quesadillas made w/ commercial tortillas where it's all about the cheese, these are all about the tortillas...
Photo of quesadillas w/ salsa and crema:
So we are down to about 3.5 lbs. of masa and are readying to leave town for the holiday. This masa is about a week and a half old and will be more than a couple weeks old by the time we return. What's the refrigerator life of this stuff? Is it possible to freeze it so that I can use it at my leisure? If so, specific freezing instructions are appreciated since I don't know much about freezing foods to retain optimal integrity.
Has anyone tried that contemporary masa casserole in Mexico OPAAT? Any suggestions for how else to feature this masa besides tamales? Thanks for the help, hounds!
Thanks for everyone's input and encouragement. I should have asked the shelf life question when I bought the masa. I'm going to take a look, touch, sniff, etc. tonight and see if it's even worth salvaging. You know, I made that last batch of quesadillas just a couple night's ago and they were delicious. Hate to see it go to waste, but it was cheap.
Can't wait to try some of your suggestions. Empanadas sound great, and I like Eat Nopal's suggestion to put quesadilla fillings on "raw" side next time to compare to how I've been making them. I've got to find huitlacoche somewhere since I love that stuff!
"For quesadillas, I add the cheese filling after flipping once. A combo of creamy monterey jack w/ sharp anejo is very nice. I then fold them in half to get half moon shapes. Unlike typical quesadillas made w/ commercial tortillas where it's all about the cheese, these are all about the tortillas..."
You just nailed the essence of quesadillas in Mexico City & surrounding Mexico State. Those made be nahuatl speaking ladies working roadside between Mexico City & Toluca... often don't have any cheese at all (they still use the name though)...
But, its all about really good tasting masa enhanced with subtle things like wild mushrooms, squash blossoms, huitlacoche, sauteed greens etc.,... adding the toppings to the "raw" side helps obliberate the lines between the earthy tortillas & their simple fillings.
1.5 weeks old? It's probably playdough by now.
I suggest you get rid of it. Masa preparada has a very short shelf life. A week at most.
As for freezing: you can freeze masa preparada for tamales after you've assembled them (or after you've cooked them). There is a subtle difference in texture. The frozen-after-cooked stuff is usually a bit drier. Personally, I only freeze tamales when I'm taking them out of state to be cooked at the in-laws. Most of the time they're all gone by the next day!
Your explorations with fresh masa have been so much fun to read. And they make me so sad that I've been unable to find it in any of the Mexican groceries I've been able to locate in Manhattan. I still have a bag of masa harina to get through, but I sort of feel as though I'm making a cake from a mix and may never experience the true essence of the real thing.
About freezing, on her Web site Zarela Martinez says it can be frozen. She also says fresh masa tends to go sour after a couple of days. If yours has, it might not be worth saving.
and scroll down to the seventh paragraph.
Great work. The conventional wisdom in my family is that fresh masa spoils quickly, especially if it's already preparada. I've never kept any for over a week myself. I froze fresh masa once, when I made a large batch of deep-fried quesadillas for the Picnic. I wrapped each prepared quesadilla in plastic and froze. When I fried them up later they came out just fine. That might be a better way to keep it: prepare the items and then freeze instead of freezing a whole block which has to be thawed later.
Other things you can do are the deep-fried quesadilla recipe from Bayless' book, or variations on that theme. One awesome dish I made recently was chorizo and potato empanadas. I used Bayless' instructions for preparing the masa from the deep-fried quesadilla recipe, then just filled with a mixture of cooked chorizo and potatoes.
nick, i have a fav preparation which is :
skin-on boiled, drained,cubed potatoes sauteed in chorizo fat;
sauteed sliced chorizo (i prefer the portug chorizo to the mex myself);
onion chopped and sauteed in chorizo fat//
combine all 3 in pan; add green salsa verde (trad joes is just fine)
enough to have good flavor.cook together a bit til not too wet.
put this filling in corn tortillas toasted over a flame.
I know nothing about fresh masa, so I am completely useless to you on that point. But, I wanted to say...
Brava, Brava, Brava for your masa making exploring experiences. I am completely intrigued by the whole thing. Before your posts, I wasn't even remotely curious about playing with masa.
last time I bought masa preparada for tamales, I asked about freezing and the counter guys said, no, no, buy it fresh, it's not expensive and so much better. My cooked tamales freeze well, but have never frozen uncooked masa preparada myself. Let us know if you do....