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Fresh Corn Tortillas
Fresh Corn Tortillas

Do you ever wonder, are corn tortillas gluten-free? I mean the packaged corn tortillas you can buy in most grocery stores. The answer is … sometimes. Sometimes corn tortillas are gluten free, and sometimes they either have some gluten-containing ingredient added in (like wheat flour), or are made on the same equipment as wheat flour tortillas so they’ll have traces of gluten in them. It seems like it should be a simple thing, right? They don’t have many ingredients. But, like many things gluten-free, it’s more complicated than you might think. Let’s see if we can simplify it – by making it at home with just a few ingredients. (Oh, read this post about whether to make or buy gluten free corn tortillas, I talk about a gluten-free brand I like. Be sure to read the comments – other readers talk about their favorite gluten-free brands, too!).

Last night was my most favoritest gluten-free restaurant meal in California during my whole almost-2-weeks in this very special wish-I-lived-here state. It was at Pica Pica Maize Kitchen, a completely gluten-free restaurant. They serve authentic arepas, which are, like, Colombian English muffins, sliced open and stuffed with all sorts of savory fillings.

I started eating the black bean arepa you see above, until one of my kids swiped it for their very own. This food is truly soul-satisfying. Reasonably priced, completely safe gluten-free food from the heart.

Since there’s already a recipe for arepas in My Cookbook, I was reminded of fresh corn tortillas, which are very, very similar to arepas. Both are made with gluten-free masa harina corn flour, an incredibly versatile, precooked cornmeal. When masa is made, it is wet. Masa harina, a corn flour, is dried. All it absolutely needs is some water to reconstitute it. I always add some salt, though, lest it be bland, but you can also add some spices, like ground cumin and chili powder, to taste.

I like to use corn tortillas to make quick quesadillas, huevos rancheros, or even as soft tacos. They really make even the simplest rice-and-beans-meal much more memorable.

I really like to use a tortilla press, whenever I’m making any sort of gluten-free tortilla. I find it makes really quick work of the whole process.

You can cook the tortilla right out of the press, but I find that it’s a bit too thick (usually about 1/4-inch) and I prefer to roll it out a bit more after I press it. You can skip the press altogether and just roll out disks of dough between two pieces of plastic (or unbleached parchment paper).

This is the basic thickness that I find works best.

When the tortilla is first placed on a hot skillet (cast iron holds heat so well – use it if you’ve got it), it lays flat.

Soon, the sides will begin to pull away from the pan, like you see above. That means it’s time to flip.

Cook the other side for about 15 seconds, then flip once more for another 15 seconds. It’s as easy as that. Here’s the printable, for your cooking convenience. Pay particular attention to the description of the dough consistency and procedure. It’s a simple process, but a specific one all the same. Looking for more recipes with masa harina? Try the recipe for arepas in my first cookbook, or this recipe for gluten-free pupusas here on the blog.

Fresh Corn Tortillas
Recipe Type: Main/Side
Author: Nicole @ Gluten-Free on a Shoestring.com
Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 10 mins
Total time: 15 mins
Serves: 10
Fresh corn tortillas made with masa harina
  1. Place the masa harina corn flour and salt in a large bowl, and whisk until well-combined and there are no clumps in the flour.
  2. Add 9 ounces water, and mix to combine. The dough should be stiff and thick, but a bit wet. It will absorb water as it sits. If it is at all dry, add more water, about 1/2 ounce at a time, until it reaches the proper consistency.
  3. Cover the masa dough loosely with a wet towel or cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to sit for 10 to 15 minutes. The dough should not stick to your hands at all as you are handling it. Divide the dough into about 10 pieces, and roll each into a tight round between your palms. If the dough is at all crumbly, sprinkle it lightly with some water and knead it into the dough.
  4. Heat a flat cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Cut a gallon-sized zip-top bag along the sides, and then in half into two equal rectangles. Cut off and discard the zip-top, and set the plastic aside.
  5. If not using a tortilla press, press one piece of dough into a disk, and then place the disk between the two pieces of plastic. Roll out into a round about 6 inches in diameter and about 1/5 of an inch thick (no thinner – corn tortillas are thicker than flour). Remove the plastic and carefully place the tortilla in the hot skillet. Allow to cook undisturbed until the tortilla begins to pull away from the pan around the edges (about 45 seconds in a hot pan). With a flat, wide spatula, flip the tortilla over and cook for about 15 seconds. Flip once more, and cook for another 15 seconds. Remove the tortilla from the skillet and cover with a moist tea towel. Repeat with the remaining dough, stacking the tortillas under the towel.
  6. If using a tortilla press, in step 5, don’t press the dough into a disk. Simply press the dough first in the tortilla press (lined with plastic). Remove the dough from the press, and either place it right in the hot skillet, or roll it out a bit thinner between the two larger pieces of plastic. Continue with the rest of the instructions.
  7. Corn tortillas can be stored at room temperature, wrapped in a damp tea towel, for a few hours and remain pliable. They can also be crisped before eating by searing briefly on both sides in a hot skillet. They are best made the same day as they will be eaten.

Be sure to use gluten-free masa harina. Bob’s Red Mill is the brand I use (I order it from amazon.com), but nuts.com also carries a gluten-free masa harina.


P.S. For a recipe for arepas, and lots more gluten-free recipes, check out My Cookbook! With your support, the recipes will keep coming. :)

  • http://glutenfree-whatcanieat.blogspot.com/ Fatcat

    So the regular masa harina in the store is not gluten free? I have some, haven’t used it yet and might need to throw it out. Hmm.

    • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

      If by “regular masa harina,” you mean something like Maseca, it is not reliably gluten-free. It is frequently contaminated with gluten. I wouldn’t use it.
      xoxo Nicole

    • Michele

      Fatcat, I used Maseca Masa and was so sick from it (I have celiac) I felt as bad as when I ate flour that was used to coat the pan on a supposed gluten free cheesecake. Horrible. I only use Bob’s now.

      Nicole, these look delicious!

  • Tammy

    Our Valenzuelan neighbor makes us warm arepas, googy with cheese and beans. The stores in Panama even sell a little contraption to bake arepas in a perfect shape. Probably should invest in one instead of bothering the neighbor. :) Masa Harina is one of the few gluten free flours I can find in Panama on the cheap, it makes pretty darn good corn bread too…

    • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

      They bake arepas, Tammy? I’ve only fried them in a skillet or made them on a grill. Never baked them before. I’m so intrigued! I will do some snooping about Panamanian arepas!
      xoxo Nicole

  • http://www.heathersblog-o-rama.blogspot.com Heather ;) :) :)

    Oh, I LOVE tortillas :) :) You can put a meal in a tortilla and take it with you wherever you go. Thanks for recommending that gluten free restaurant in CA, too!!! Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather :)

    • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

      Hugs to you, Heather, from the ocean shores of California this time! ;)
      xoxo Nicole

  • Sara

    A while back, I requested “corn tortillas” in a restaurant where soft flour tortillas were offered with the meal I was ordering. The waiter told me “no problem” and shortly thereafter brought me their version of corn tortillas which was a blend of wheat and corn… So many things can be misleadingly titled. The “corn” tortilla chips they offer as appetizers with dip, also contain wheat, to make them smoother, whiter, and lighter in color. I wish things were more accurately titled in this country! Shouldn’t it be called what it actually is? How about soy sauce? It’s got more wheat in it than soy… so should be called wheat and soy sauce. I’ve learned all these things the hard way. I get my Tamari now that’s gluten free and think I’ll skip that restaurant next time I’m in town! Eating out is nearly unthinkable in my part of the world now. In Southeast Texas we’re not all that gf savvy. Praise California…!

    • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

      What a shame, Sara. It is very common for corn tortillas in the U.S., especially ones that are made fresh, to contain some wheat flour in addition to the corn, even when they were made without flour in their native countries. The thinking is that it makes them easier to roll out. In my experience, the only time I have had a problem rolling fresh corn tortillas is when the moisture balance is improper. And I’m with you on soy sauce. Infuriating! I’ll see your ‘praise California’ with an ‘amen!’
      xoxo Nicole

  • Andrea

    Are these tortillas cooked on a dry skillet? I want to make sure that I don’t wind up heat fusing a corn tortilla to my cast iron pan. Thanks for your help.

    • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

      Hi, Andrea,
      Yes. Dry skillet. The only way your tortilla will stick to your seasoned cast iron skillet is if the skillet is not hot enough when you place the tortilla in it. No fusing. No worries!
      xoxo Nicole

  • J’Marinde Shephard

    Absolutely no disrespect meant, however, I have found that if I buy a nice-sized bag of “CHARRAS” brand Corn Tortillas at my local grocer, I get a huge bag of YUMMY, thin and tender-crisp tortillas far cheaper in cost, energy and time than making my own. (About $2.98 for a 12.3 oz. bag of looks to be about 30-45 or so)

    But, I do find a challenge in trying to make my own, so I will savor your recipe and keep it close for when I am up to the next challenge in doing so. Thank you.

    One other question – – my tortilla press is not flt like yours. It is a bit more of a complicated-looking thing that is very hard to use, so I just put the dough between sheets of plastic wrap and mush them with my hands. Where did you find your press? I do have a comal though. (Also, I read somewhere that adding 1/4 tsp of baking soda to the mix improves the “loft” of the tortillas. Any thoughts on this?

    • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

      Hi, J’Marinde,
      These are not crisp tortillas. They are pliable.
      My press is by the brand Vasconia. I’m sure you could find it on amazon. It’s simple, cheap and easy to use. And you can’t possibly make corn tortillas without pressing them and/or rolling them out with a rolling pin.
      There’s no need to add baking soda to corn tortillas.

  • Jeri

    Must get a tortilla press. The only Mexican restaurant I eat at right now is at Tortilla Joes in Downtown Disney.
    Oh, and you don’t really want to live here. We are going more bankrupt each and every day.

    • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

      I know I know, Jeri. It still seems like paradise to me. ;)
      xoxo Nicole

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