Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cooking Word of the Day: Nixtamalization

Nixtamalization is the Nahuatl word for the cooking and steeping of corn in alkaline water. The steeping liquor, known as nejayote, is drained off after the process is complete and the remaining corn is washed to remove a portion of its skin and excess alkali. At this point the batch of corn is known as nixtamal. Nixtamal can be ground to produce the dough known as masa –from which we make tortillas, tamales, tlacoyos, etc; or it can be left whole and boiled again to produce the puffed up boiled corn used in posole.
If you've ever wanted to make tortillas with "fresh" masa (as opposed to making them from masa de harina) - allegedly so superior that they deserve a different name - Cooking Issues has your bible. A pretty amazing post. Unfortunately it doesn't look like a trivial undertaking... the most difficult issue seems to be grinding the wet nixtamal, which not all appliances can handle. It does appear that there are hand crank wet grinders on the market that aren't super expensive, but apparently grinding nixtamal is all they do (i.e. they're no good for regular grains). Not sure I need to make an authentic tortilla quite that much... though, granted, it would make for some epic blog fodder. Frankly I just wish I could buy fresh masa... let a tortilla factory do all the simmering, steeping, and grinding... but, at least last time I checked, there was no such place in Boston. Not surprising really (there is only one in New York after all), but disappointing nonetheless. Maybe the Cooking Issues post will inspire some budding Boston culinary entrepreneur?  One can only hope.