It’s time to set the record straight, friends: food processors absolutely work for turning nixtamal into masa.
This has always been the case. It’s just that we (here at Masienda) weren’t as keen as we are now on promoting them to get the job done.
You weren’t? How come?
Having served and coached hundreds of restaurants on creating in-house masa programs since 2014, we have historically encouraged (and still encourage) professional chefs to work with a basalt molino like Molinito, when it comes to grinding nixtamal. For starters, a molino is most efficient, especially when you are preparing traditional-method masa (i.e., masa made fresh from nixtamal versus masa harina) for as many guests as restaurants normally do; electric molinos generally have the ability to grind far more nixtamal in far less time than other methods, like a food processor or a hand mill. Additionally, chefs are expected to perform at the highest level, and there is no doubt that a proper molino will give you the best quality of finished masa, time and time again.
OK, so what changed?
Nothing changed, necessarily. A basalt molino will still yield the best results for making masa.
These days, however, the kernel-to-masa process–the process of transforming corn into masa by cooking it, nixtamalizing it, rinsing it and grinding it–is getting to be as popular as making sourdough bread at home. That’s to say, it’s no longer just chefs who are exploring this ancient Mesoamerican tradition, it’s home cooks around the world. We’re in the midst of a full-blown masa movement (#thirdwavemasa).
And so, we decided that it was time to revisit the food processor with the home cook in mind.
Food processor pros and cons
The pros to using a food processor for masa:
- A food processor is a fraction of the cost of a molino (even an inexpensive molino).
- Most home cooks have one or know someone with one.
- It is totally capable of producing a delicious, finished masa.
The cons to using a food processor for masa:
- It limits your batch sizes to the size of the food processor’s container.
- It requires a fair amount of water and a bit of extra work to achieve a smooth masa (we’ll talk about this in a bit).
With that in mind, let’s get into how to prepare masa with a food processor, using the kernel-to-masa process.
How to prepare the nixtamal (no matter the grinding method)
Makes 2 lbs masa (approximately 35 tortillas)
- 0.16 oz food-grade calcium hydroxide (or 1% cal to total weight of corn)*
- 1 lb dry field corn
- Water (enough to cover corn by 4 inches)
Instructions: Rinse corn in a colander to remove any debris or chaff. Place the cal in a large, nonreactive mixing bowl and slowly incorporate about 1/4 cup of water water, stirring until the mix becomes a loose, smooth, and uniform slurry. (You only need enough water to dissolve the cal–don’t worry about exact measurements here.)
Pour the corn into a nonreactive pot. Pour the cal mixture directly into the pot, getting it all up on that corn. Add the water and stir everything together with a spatula, to evenly incorporate. Cover the pot (optional, however, it helps to get to temperature faster) and place over high heat.
Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium. Set a timer, stir frequently (so as to not scorch the corn at the bottom of the pot) and check the corn every 5 minutes. To check:
1) Remove a kernel and rub it between your fingers. If the skins easily slide off (I mean easily), we’re nearly there.
2) Taste a kernel. It should be tender, but al dente (like a boiled peanut or roasted cashew) and have a tortilla flavor when it’s ready. Once simmering, the skins, texture and flavor should take anywhere between 10 and 45 minutes to develop, depending on the corn’s moisture content and density. Continue cooking, if necessary, checking every 5 minutes until the skins are loosened and you have reached the aforementioned texture and flavor.
Remove from heat and cover the pot. Let the pot sit undisturbed for 8 to 12 hours. After 8 to 12 hours, drain the pot into a colander. Rinse the corn, now called nixtamal, massaging and agitating vigorously until you have washed off approximately 50% of the corn’s skins (you may choose to do more or less than this).
Grinding with a food processor
Fill the food processor about halfway with nixtamal and pulse for one to two minutes until it becomes coarsely ground. (Note: you may need to break this process up into smaller batches, depending on the size of your food processor and/or nixtamal batch.)
Remove the lid and scrape the sides of the container with a spatula. After replacing the lid, add a splash of water and then turn the food processor back on. With the blades running, slowly add water until a cohesive paste begins to form. Continue until the paste becomes smooth (between 5 to 7 minutes), pausing, as necessary, to scrape the sides of the container.
Once ground, the masa will be quite wet and sticky; this is because of the amount of water we needed to keep the nixtamal evenly/fully circulating in the food processor.
To get the masa to a workable state, you may then choose to do one of two things.
1. You may incorporate a bit of dry masa harina into the wet masa, thereby reducing the overall moisture. This can be done manually (i.e., kneading by hand) or in a standing mixer with a dough hook or paddle attachment.
2. You may dry the wet masa in the oven. To do so, transfer the wet masa from the food processor to a rimmed baking sheet. Spread the masa evenly across the surface and place in a preheated oven set to 200 degrees F. Continue cooking until the top yields a slight crust; it should be noticeably drier and no longer sticky. Depending on how thick and wet the layer of masa is, this should take between 15 and 20 minutes. (Note: you may need to break this process up into smaller batches, depending on the size of your sheet tray and/or masa batch.)
In either case the ideal finished texture should be moist, but not sticky, pliable but not gummy.
Mixing the masa
Mix the masa manually or using a standing mixer for 2-3 minutes, slowly adding water as needed until the masa is as wet as possible to touch without being sticky (i.e., bits and clumps should not stick to your hand).
Shaping the masa
What you choose to create is entirely up to you, whether it be a tortilla, tamal, sope, huarache, or any number of other dishes. If you’re looking for ideas, head over to Masienda’s YouTube channel to explore just some of the masa shapes and possibilities out there for your next masa meal.
As always, let us know if you have any questions along the way. We’re standing by at email@example.com for any masa preparation questions or thoughts you might have.