Masa Feature: Bolita Belatove with Justin Crawford
Masa Feature: Bolita Belatove with Justin Crawford
We're joined this week by our friend, Justin Crawford, a return contributor to our Masa Feature column. Justin is an avid home cook who, pre-pandemic, helmed the bar program at San Francisco's famed Nopa restaurant.
Justin and I separately tackled our Bolita Belatove for tlacoyos and tortillas, respectively. As always, our goal for this column is to provide a range of approaches for home cooks and professional chefs to draw upon for each featured varietal. So, we came at the belatove from different angles in order to cover as much ground as possible.
Our preparation notes, from kernel to finished tlacoyo/tortilla, are below, with hyperlinks to each chapter of our Kernel-to-Masa series on Masienda's YouTube channel, making it easy to follow along with our go-to instructions for preparing any varietal.
If you're not feeling ready to jump into making masa from dry corn, you can also replicate these dishes with our Heirloom Corn Masa Harina.
Bolita belatove may be among the rarest of heirloom corn varieties in all of Mexico. Belatove (Zapotec for “maguey worm”, which, like this variety of corn, bares a gorgeous purple/red hue) hails from Oaxaca’s central valleys. This lot comes from farming partner Don Juan and yields a beautiful mauve masa and distinctly nutty flavor.
Justin: Having used this corn previously, I knew I wanted a preparation where the masa outweighed its accompaniment. It has such an amazing depth of flavor. I decided I would make tlacoyos with a slightly coarser grind than I would use for tortillas. This also allowed me to experiment with just two passes through the grinder. I also wanted to keep as much of the corn's attractive color so I used a lower cal percentage and gave it a more staunch rinse.
Jorge: Insofar as end use, I wanted a masa for table tortillas. That's to say, a pliable masa with high moisture and a finer grind--all important for producing a puff, or soufflé when cooked into a tortilla. Bolita belatove is notoriously finicky when it comes to color, so my first goal for this feature was to show the range of color possibilities from even a minor adjustment in cal levels.
Secondly, I haven't worked with belatove in a while, so I also wanted to get a fresh take on its structure. Bolita varietals are quite dense and crystalline--they are essentially flint corns. Given our last Masa Feature on Red Cónico, an incredibly soft-starched varietal, it felt fitting to go to the opposite end of the spectrum with Bolita Belatove.
Justin: Added 500 grams of corn + Cal (4.25 grams = .85%) + water (1000 grams = 200%) in a cold copper pot. Set over medium heat with a 24 minute warm-up to reach a visible simmer. It leveled out at around 205 F. Maintained steady temperature throughout the entire cook, using boiling water to keep the water level at the original line. Heat was cut after 34 minutes at a simmer, my fastest cook to date. Skins were slipping off very easily and the kernel had reached “medium rare” in terms of bite. Deep roasty, nutty aromas were already starting to emerge.
Jorge: Knowing ahead of time that Justin went a bit lower on his cal ratio, I kept to the 1% cal ratio that we generally recommend for nixtamalizing corn. 123 oz of corn = 1.23 oz of cal. I set to high heat on our induction burner with a lid on until the pot started to boil (about 28 minutes). Reset to medium heat for another 32 minutes afterward, filling the pot with additional water as it evaporated (which lowered the temp each time, causing a delay before it got back to med temp each time). The belatove absorbed a lot of water between the cook and nixtamalization.
The pot I used was a bit too small for the amount I was cooking, but we made it work by stirring more frequently to ensure that the kernels toward bottom (i.e., closer to the heat source) didn't overcook or scorch. As a general rule, try to use a pot that's big enough so that your corn level is at the half-full level or below in the pot.
Justin: 14 hours steep
Jorge: 14 hour steep. The belatove absorbed a lot of water! Again, I had more than half of the pot filled with corn, so there was less room for the amount of water needed for the absorption that ultimately took place. Another reason to not overcrowd your pot...
Justin: Drained for 15 minutes over #120 sieve to catch as close to all solids as possible. Weight here was 997g. After draining I mixed to evenly distribute corn and skins. Pulled off 85% of the total weight for a full rinse and then recombined with the untouched corn for an effective 85% washoff. (Somehow I missed recording the weight at this point as well as forgetting to take a photo, sorry!)
Jorge: I was at about a 50-60% washoff (i.e., leaving about 50%-40% of the skins on the nixtamal). This was the biggest variable that I wanted to check for its impact on both the color and the structure of the masa. (Spoiler alert: It turned out to be more skins than I would recommend leaving on for this varietal, if you're going for a clean translation of color and a slightly softer masa. I'd do closer to a 80-90% washoff next time--and given how strong the starch and proteins are in the belatove, you could probably get away with a 100% washoff and still get enough elasticity for a tortilla puff later on.)
Justin: Just two passes through the Estrella manual grinder for this batch. I set the plates closer for the first pass because of this and it definitely took more work to push through, but the result was a masa that already wanted to be together. Hydrated after the first pass with 30% of the original weight of corn. The second pass produced a very pretty speckled masa with a rustic appearance. Cutting out the third pass might have saved a little time but certainly not effort, as the two passes took more work. Not sure if this method will be very helpful in the future.
Jorge: Molinito with intermittent trickle of water using a water bottle with a small hole poked into the top.
Justin: KitchenAid with paddle attachment for 5 minutes. I have taken to adjusting the final hydration of the masa while in the mixer adding water until the masa becomes cohesive in a way that collects around the paddle but loose enough for an efficient mix. Final yield = 969g.
Jorge: Mixed manually this time by hand, adding water until the masa was very wet, but not sticking to my fingers. Did not weigh for final yield.
Masa Press and Tortilla Cook:
Justin: Doña Rosa x Masienda tortilla press. 55 gram portions lightly pressed, kept thick enough to form around the filling without ruptures. 1 tablespoon filling placed in the center and folded as if it were an empanada. Here the tlacoyo is moved to the hands to achieve the football shape and then gently pressed flat between the palms.
Tlacoyos were placed on a clay comal over medium/low heat for about 5 minutes per side to complete the first part of the cook. They were removed at this point and the heat turned up as high as possible for the final sear. About 90 seconds per side until you are happy with the color and exterior. These pictured were filled with olive oil-smashed fresh favas and requeson. On the plate with them is an almond cream and cress flowers. Yum!
Jorge: Doña Rosa x Masienda tortilla press. Our office electric griddle does not get hot enough for a gravity-defying puff, but there was enough puff to ensure that each tortilla cooked through the center properly.
Take note when using the bolita belatove: use a bit less cal (0.85-0.90% of corn weight should do the trick) and wash the skins off thoroughly for a 90% washoff or so. The flavor was still clean, nevertheless, and the nuttiness that belatove shows off was fully present.
I was blown away by how much body this corn has, especially when pitted against the red cónico, which is much softer and delicate. This masa peeled off effortlessly from the plastic sheets after being pressed; it was elastic, forgiving and crazy pliable with stretch for days. With less skins (90% washoff), it would have been pitch perfect and just the right bite. If you are looking for a forgiving varietal to play with insofar as elasticity, bolita belatove is a must.