I’ve owned a tortilla press for years. That often came in handy before moving to Texas, as my previous stomping ground in North Carolina was pretty barren terrain when it came to finding good tortillas for sale. It was either make your own, or suffer whatever stale, preservative-laden specimens you could find on the store shelves.
These days, I have a dozen or more tortillerías within a 10-minute drive of my home (Sanitary Tortilla Company at 623 Urban Loop just south of César E. Chávez is my usual go-to). This means my bulky, cast-iron tortilla press goes unused for months at a time.
Fortunately, it turns out that device is good for more than mooshing masa into perfect, flat rounds.
Noted Vietnamese food authority Andrea Nguyen says Chinese American cooks have long looked to that iconic Mexican tool for flattening balls of dough into skins for a wide range of Asian dumplings.
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Regular Food & Wine contributor Margaret Eby got her hands on a tortilla press at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak and has found it to be the perfect tool for making the Indian bread naan, pitas and Chinese-style scallion pancakes.
For fans of thin-crust pizza, the tortilla press is an ideal tool for smashing out balls of your favorite pizza dough, be it store-bought or homemade, into the base for crunchy, individual-size pies. Just top as desired and bake on a pizza stone or sheet pan at 450 degrees until browned.
The tortilla press makes quick work of meat, as well. The next time you’ve got a homemade chicken or pork schnitzel night, instead of ruthlessly bashing that protein flat with a rolling pin, try reaching for the tortilla press. Just put the meat in a plastic bag — chicken breast and pork tenderloin work particularly well — and gently press it out to your desired thinness, turning the bag as needed to get the right shape.
On ExpressNews.com: Commentary: The wondrous, rich and holy tortilla
If it’s thin, well-browned burger patties are you prefer but you just can’t bear squishing all that ground beef with your hands, once again, reach for the tortilla press. Just line the press with plastic wrap and squish the meat as thin as you’d like. And bonus, if you use fresh plastic wrap for each patty, you can just wrap those suckers up and place them in the freezer for future use.
Tortilla presses are made with any number of materials including plastic, wood and several types of metal. All those materials have their strengths and weaknesses.
Nguyen advises cooks to reach for one constructed of lightweight aluminum, which she says allows for better control of the amount of pressure applied to the dumpling skins. I use a heavier cast-iron model and like the extra heft for effortless pressing.
In general, plastic presses will be the least expensive as well as the least durable. Wood presses have an impressive traditional look, but if you go that route, opt for a more pricey one made from hardwood instead of flimsy pine.
A solid all-around choice for function and value is the Norpro 6-inch cast aluminum press for less than $20 on amazon.com.
In non-tortilla news, I got a break in the kitchen this week. Instead of cooking up the usual plethora of recipes for the weekly Taste section, we handed the reins to San Antonio resident Todd Slack. He spent a couple months cooking through all of Ina Garten’s cookbooks and shared a few of the recipes he fell in love with.
Recipe: Ina Garten’s Roasted Tomato Basil Soup
Recipe: Ina Garten’s Pork Souvlaki with Radish Tzatziki
Recipe: Ina Garten’s Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits
Recipe: Ina Garten’s Mocha Chocolate Icebox Cake
Recipe: Ina Garten’s Fresh Whiskey Sour cocktail
Paul Stephen is a food and drink reporter and restaurant critic in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. To read more from Paul, become a subscriber. [email protected] | Twitter: @pjbites | Instagram: @pjstephen