Houston-Style Flour Tortillas
When it comes to Mexican and TexMex food, nothing beats homemade tortillas. If you’ve never had them before, you have no idea what you’re missing.
I grew up eating Mission brand tortillas. They were inexpensive and tasted just fine. When I would visit family back east, I’d stay with my mom’s family for extended periods of time and I have vivid memories of Mountain Dew, Hungry Howie’s pizza, and homemade tortillas cooked on the gas stove. Like right on the heating element coils, pockets of air charring and occasionally catching on fire. They were soft and crispy and delicious. Words cannot fully describe just how amazing they were. I never saw the “making” process; only the cooking part. I had no idea what my aunt did – I just knew they tasted like perfect little doughy angels. They were most definitely not Mission brand tortillas and I lamented the fact that my mom didn’t make them herself when we were eating anything that required flour tortillas.
In the last few years, I’ve had several different run-ins with homemade flour tortillas in my kitchen. I can’t even remember the first recipe I tried. They turned out great, but were such hard work. We were living in Bremerton at the time, in the apartment, and I was still learning how to cook. Or at least, learning how to cook things that weren’t Kirkland brand mac&cheese, Pillsbury biscuits or cookies, Banquet salisbury steak, and Mission flour tortillas. Even though the end result was pillowy flour tortillas, I wasn’t sure I’d want to make them again; considering how much work it took.
The second attempt, we had moved into the house here in Port Orchard and I had gotten my hands on a copy of The Homesick Texan Cookbook. It was a book I found at Barnes & Noble and sneakily bought on Amazon for half the price and free shipping (thanks Amazon Prime!). It’s a great collection of Mexican and TexMex recipes from a gal who was raised down south and currently resides in New York City. Her writing is lovely and her recipes are even more delightful. The recipe I tried at that point was San Antonio-Style Flour Tortillas. And these are Houston-Style.
Did you know there was a difference? ‘Cause I sure didn’t.
The San Antonio version are “puffier and thicker” and is considered a true TexMex tortilla; never found in Mexico. The Houston version is “soft and pliant”, and with fewer ingredients. In the end, they were both equally easy to make.
The hardest part about making tortillas from scratch is the waiting. The glutens needs to rest and therefore, require a total of an hour and a half of sitting. They don’t rise or expand or anything fancy like that. They just need to sit. Why? Allowing the glutens to sit lets starch molecules to absorb liquid, causing them to swell and give the dough a thicker, more viscous consistency. Any air bubbles have time to work themselves out of the dough. If a thin, uniform structure is desired/required, like a thoroughly thin tortilla, the glutens resting is vital.
But beyond the hour and a half wait, these things are as simple as melting a bit of lard or shortening (lard makes the best tortillas but shortening is very acceptable), mixing with flour, kneading, sitting, dividing, sitting, rolling out, and BAM into the skillet. These are best devoured warm, but they sure do taste good the next day after sitting in the fridge overnight!
Houston-Style Flour Tortillas
source: The Homesick Texan Cookbook
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup shortening or lard
1 cup water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1. Place the lard or shortening and water into a pot on medium heat and cook until it has melted.
2. In a bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Pour in the melted lard or shortening and water and stir until a loose ball is formed. Place dough on a floured surface and knead for 2 minutes until dough is supple and smooth. Cover the dough and let it rest for 1 hour.
3. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Cover again and let it rest for 30 minutes. After dough has rested, place each dough ball one at a time on a floured surface, pat it out into a 4″ circle, and then roll with a palote or a rolling pin from the center until it’s thin, about 8″ in diameter. Don’t overwork the dough, or it will be stiff. Keep rolled-out tortillas covered until ready to cook.
4. In a dry cast-iron skillet heated on high, cook each tortilla for 30 seconds on one side, flip it, and then cook for 1 minute on the other side. It should start to puff a bit. Flip it again and cook for 30 more seconds. Place cooked tortillas in a basket lined with a cloth or a tortilla warmer. Repeat process for remaining balls of dough.