How to make masa using a food processor

Share this post

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)

Ingredients:

  • 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 puff@masienda.com for any masa preparation questions or thoughts you might have.

 

Comments (13)

  • Mark Easter Reply

    Hi – you have some great resources at your site. Thank you! Can masa be frozen after it is mixed? If so, are there any specific instructions for how to freeze it, and for how long is it still good?

    Mark

    February 5, 2021 at 11:44 am
    • Masienda Reply

      Hi Mark, thanks for the question! Yes you can freeze the masa, by placing in a freezer bag or air tight container. This will add a few more weeks to its shelf life

      April 1, 2021 at 1:41 pm
  • Adrie Reply

    What about using Vitamix?

    April 23, 2021 at 8:38 pm
    • Masienda Reply

      Hi Adrie, that works too! You’ll follow the same steps and you’ll want to adjust your batch size to account for the size of your container.

      April 26, 2021 at 3:47 pm
    • Michael Winters Reply

      I have a Victoria grinder, I can not get a really fine masa with it. Would ¾ vitamix for smoothness and ¼ grinder for texture work?

      May 15, 2021 at 11:33 am
      • Masienda Reply

        Hi Michael, thanks for your question! You’ll want to add some additional water when using a vitamix and may also need to run it through a couple times to dial in the texture.

        May 17, 2021 at 3:49 pm
  • Greg Reply

    Love your products and company! I have tried the food processor technique using your blue corn, and while it was still delicious I wasn’t completely happy with the product. I have a KitchenAid meat grinder attachment and I’m wondering if that might work better for my next round. Any thoughts on that? thanks!

    May 20, 2021 at 5:26 am
    • Masienda Reply

      Hi Greg, thank you for the support! I’d be happy to help provide some insights. In our experience this will get a similar if not coarser finish than a food processor. One thing that helped us was adding enough water to get the grind into a pasty consistency. It can get fine enough to get a light puff, especially if cut with masa harina. Let us know if this helps!
      -Tony

      May 20, 2021 at 12:50 pm
      • Greg Reply

        Tony- it worked pretty well! I didn’t have to use a good amount of water to get it to go through the mail so we need to dry it out afterwards. But I found it definitely a more pleasing texture than using the food processor.

        May 28, 2021 at 8:14 pm
        • Greg Reply

          Oops- meant to type I DID need to use a fair amount of water, as per your suggestion!

          May 28, 2021 at 8:16 pm
  • Dave Reply

    Bricia Lopez, in Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico recommends an Indian wet grinder. I have her favorite model, the Premier Small Wonder Table Top Wet Grinder 1.5 Liter by SS Premier, and I’m thrilled with it.

    She recommends grinding for 40 minutes, scraping down as needed, after adding 1/3 water by weight. This yields a too-wet masa that one corrects (like here) with masa harina; the masa still comes out much better than straight masa harina, even Masienda’s.

    40 minutes is a rough guideline; the process goes faster if one scrapes down more often, or works wetter. Ideally one has something else to do in the kitchen, and can spot when the masa is ground sufficiently for its intended application.

    June 22, 2021 at 10:09 pm
  • Cary Reply

    I just bought some heirloom corn from Masienda and am ready to try making masa! After cooking and letting the corn sit overnight and washing it – is it possible to let the corn dry thoroughly and then grind it so we just have a dry masa? I have a Mockmill to grind dry items very finely — but they cannot be wet. Then I’d have the ability to store the masa and mix it with water when I am ready to make tortillas. (this is basically the process I follow when I use store-bought maseca. All the videos I’ve seen about grinding into masa has the corn mixed with water and the masa is ready to form into tortilla balls. I’d like to grind it into dry masa for storage. Any advice will be greatly appreciated!!!

    July 16, 2021 at 12:36 pm
    • Masienda Reply

      Hi Cary thank you for your question! We’d be happy to shed some light on the process. In short yes that’s certainly an option. To improve dehydration you may want to place your corn in an over at less than 300 degrees for about 4 hours to let it completely dry. Once ground the dry masa should last for up to 1 month if stored in an air tight container. I hope this helps and please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at info@masienda.com for more tips!

      July 20, 2021 at 3:52 pm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *