Cook-and-Serve Flour Tortillas From TortillaLand Are as Close as You'll Get to Homemade

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Forgive me Serious Eaters, for I have sinned. No, I did not accidentally start my boiled eggs in cold water. Nor did I massage my hamburger meat (a crime, I hear, that will cause shredded iceberg lettuce to grow on your palms). I did not even claim that searing locks in juices.

No, my sin was a far more subtle one, though no less nefarious. One that may not have even been noticed by the average Serious Eater, yet still has the power to slowly make the world less delicious.

I'll reveal to you what it is. Those with weak constitutions or extreme cases of punctiliousness may want to divert their eyes:

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There. You see it? No, I'm not talking about that perfectly seared and juicy sliced skirt steak in the middle of the fajita. Nope, not that small dollop of flavor-packed guacamole. And I'm not embarrassed in the least by the fresh and punchy pico de gallo.

Look again. Closer. There, you see it?

I'm talking about that wan, limp, lifeless flour tortilla. A tortilla so white it could blend in with a polar bear blinking in a snowstorm. A tortilla so white that ghosts dress up as it for halloween. It's a shameless, inexcusable crime, and I have no real explanation.

For many years, I, perhaps like some of you, used to think that flour tortillas stink. Who'd ever pick a bland flour tortilla over a flavor-packed corn tortilla? It wasn't until a few years ago, when I had my first taste of a freshly made, flaky and charred, lard-packed flour tortilla in Texas that I saw the light. Anyone who thinks that flour tortillas are inferior has simply never had a good one.

I wish I could say that since that day, a terrible store-bought flour tortilla has never passed the threshold of my lips, but that would be a lie. You see, I'm an inherently lazy person, and when lazy person and convenience products cross paths, bad taste ensues.

Sure, from time to time I'll break out the lard and the rolling pin and put in the effort to make a fresh batch. (And ever since I read this outstanding recipe, I've made sure to stock instant mashed potatoes in my pantry.) But most of the time? I'll pick up that bag of pre-cooked flour tortillas and bring it up to the register, hoping none of my acquaintances catch me, avoiding eye contact with the cashier, like I'm buying a dirty magazine.

That was then and this is now, for last week I had my first bite of a cook-at-home tortilla from TortillaLand, and it was glorious. I mean, truly, mind-blowingly, magically, OMG-did-this-really-come-out-of-a-refrigerated-package? glorious.

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Here's the thing: standard supermarket flour tortillas come pre-cooked, which means that from the moment they leave the factory to the moment they get served, they're losing quality. Normal bread products become stale very rapidly, even when they're tightly wrapped. To combat this, manufacturers add a slew of dough conditioners and preservatives, designed to help them both retain moisture, and to prevent starches from recrystallizing and stiffening. This leads to tortillas that stay soft for longer, but lack the pure, toasty wheat flavor of a fresh-cooked product.

And just as shelf-stable bread will never compare to a fresh-baked loaf made with minimal ingredients, so a shelf-stable tortilla can never compare to a fresh-cooked one.

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What the folks at TortillaLand have done is really quite ingenious: they realized that the time it takes you to reheat a pre-cooked flour tortilla is basically the same as the time it takes you to cook a raw flour tortilla from scratch, provided that the dough has already been made and rolled for you.

And that's exactly what the product is. It's raw flour tortillas made with nothing but flour, water, fat, salt, and a little sugar, rolled out, and packaged raw.

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All you have to do is slide the disk into a hot, dry skillet (I used the cheapest nonstick skillet I could find at my local Safeway—the only skillet I had for about a week after moving to San Francisco), and let it cook for a few moments.

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About 30 seconds later, you'll see it start to puff and bubble. This is your cue to flip it over.

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As it cooks on the second side, it'll inflate like a balloon or, more accurately, like a pita bread or roti, with which flour tortillas (and indeed al flatbreads) share a common ancestry.

See those nice dark spots and bubbles? Those are sort of like FLAVOR THAT YOU CAN SEE.

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In under a minute, you've got yourself a hot, soft, steaming fresh flour tortilla good enough to make a Tex-Mex abuelita cry tears of joy. But the best part is within:

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Not even the homemade tortillas I've been practicing achieve that level of flakiness, which means that for the forseeable future, the lazy me will be getting his way in the kitchen. (P.S. these tortillas go fantastically well with Max's Lazy Cook's Black Beans. Just saying.)

The only down side? They're not extremely widely available. Most Wal-Marts and Price Choppers seem to carry them, even over on the East Coast. And they have a handy store locator on their website. You can also order them off of Amazon (where they are admittedly quite expensive).

I feel like my blinders have suddenly been lifted and that life is going to get a whole lot tastier in the near future.