The store-bought flour tortillas ranged in price from $1.19 a dozen to $1.85 a dozen. The Vons, Mission, Guerrero, and La Fe all had similar textures, tastes, and smells. All were acceptable. The Henry’s, however, had a decent taste, but were dry, crumbly, and too thick. Henry’s also carried a flour tortilla made with lard by Miguel Gonzales ($1.09 a dozen). I had hoped that it would be the king of flavor in the store-bought court. I was disappointed to find it was dry, despite its heavy animal-fat taste, and had a bitter edge.
I decided to call Circle Foods, which produced our favorite fresh flour tortilla. Gus Franco told me that he had 32 different recipes for tortillas, to meet different customers’ requirements. “Some like it made with lard, for taste reasons, but those tortillas can be heavily saturated with fat. Most go with canola oil, because the taste is still very good and it is healthier for you. We mainly distribute to restaurants, but you can buy them retail at Costco [two dozen for $1.89, under the Porkyland label]. A flour tortilla consists of flour, water, oil, and then a leavening agent, like baking soda, and salt. We make different tortillas with lard, canola oil, or soybean oil, and then we have them either hand-stretched or machine -pressed.
“All the tortillas start off as dough balls. For the hand-stretched, the dough ball goes onto a roller plate, which flattens it into a semi-oval shape — not quite round. It then slides off onto a hot plate. At this point, two girls grab it and finish stretching it into a round. For the press, again, it starts as a dough ball. It is fed into a press, which forms it into a round.” Like the corn tortillas, they are then baked in a three-tiered oven with different temperature settings, ranging between 300 and 600 degrees, for 25 to 30 seconds.
What’s the difference? “A hand-stretched tortilla is basically a table tortilla that you serve on the side. But if you’re making something like a burrito, with a lot of juice, you want a plate-pressed tortilla. It’s more resilient and less likely to tear on you.”
Later that evening, I prepared chicken enchiladas with fresh corn tortillas from Gabriel’s and El Indio. The corn smell engulfed the kitchen as the tortillas sizzled in the oiled skillet. Patrick, anxious to sink his teeth into one, badgered me to know when they would be ready. After supper was finished, we agreed that the dish was substantially better than it has been in times past, when I had used grocery-store tortillas. The fresh tortillas seemed much more present amid the sauce and chicken. I have been converted; I will never go back to grocery-store tortillas.