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If you've never tried a gordita—a classic Mexican street food that's essentially a crispy corn cake split and stuffed with any number of savory fillings—then you're truly missing out. I had my first taste of this extraordinarily satisfying dish about a decade ago during a home-stay in Oaxaca, when my host mother pulled out all the stops, making her own carnitas, or crisp-tender twice-cooked pork, and then stuffing it inside a corn cake made from masa she'd had ground to her specifications at the neighborhood mill that morning. Juicy, flavorful pork stuffed inside a hot corn cake? I was hooked.
Since that first genre-defining gordita, my experiences with this snack have, unfortunately, been few and far between: I no longer live in the primarily Mexican neighborhood of my post-college years, and seeking out the dish has become more complicated. But a couple of months ago, inspired by a Mark Bittman article, I started whipping up my very own masa dough at home, and now gorditas make a regular appearance on my dinner table.
So what's masa, you ask? Quite simply, it's the magical corn-flour dough that's a key component of many classical Mexican dishes, from basic tortillas to sopes, tamales, and many, many more. In many areas of Mexico, masa is no simple affair: it's made by treating dried hominy kernels in a slaked lime solution—a process called nixtamalization—then grinding them into a soft, pliable dough. Luckily, many stores in the U.S. carry masa harina, a corn flour made from the already treated corn.
When making gorditas, I add some all-purpose flour and baking powder for lightness, and a little lard for flavor and texture. Then I form it into small flat disks, and shallow-fry it in oil for a crispy exterior. The cakes, lightly puffed from the baking powder, are then split and stuffed with any number of traditional fillings, from the aforementioned carnitas, to braised beef, or soft fresh cheese and beans. I like to top my gordita fillings with a little bit of quick curtido—a semi-fermented cabbage slaw akin to sauerkraut but much fresher—to bring some brightness and acidity to the rich, often long-cooked stuffings inside the gordita. I also add a schmear of crema, that wonderful, light Mexican sour cream, to help bind the pseudo-sandwich together.
If all of this sounds like a lot, it's really not: sure, typical gordita fillings like barbacoa take some time to prepare, but you can always make them a few days ahead of time. When you're ready to chow down on gorditas, just throw the masa together in a matter of minutes and then fill the cakes with your pre-made filling. Plus, extra gordita shells freeze like a dream and defrost in minutes for extra-easy snacking.