At a Mexican restaurant, warm, soft corn tortillas are essential for tacos, enchiladas, and other classic dishes. But how exactly do restaurants perfectly heat up these tortillas? Mexican chefs use various traditional and modern techniques to warm corn tortillas while retaining moisture and flavor.
Traditional Skillet Method
The traditional technique used in Mexican restaurants is heating the tortillas in a dry skillet or comal on the stovetop. Here’s how it’s done:
- Heat up a skillet over medium-high heat. No need to add oil or butter.
- Place a corn tortilla in the hot skillet and heat for about 30 seconds on each side.
- The tortilla will become warm and have a slightly charred appearance.
- Repeat with remaining tortillas, stacking the heated ones in a tortilla warmer to keep them warm.
This direct dry heat brings out the delicious corn flavor in the tortillas and gives them a lightly crisped texture perfect for tacos and tostadas.
Oven Baking Method
Another common technique used by Mexican restaurants is oven baking:
- Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).
- Wrap stack of corn tortillas in aluminum foil.
- Place foil packet directly on oven rack.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes until tortillas are warm throughout.
The indirect heat from the oven steams and warms up the tortillas, keeping them soft and flexible for dishes like enchiladas and quesadillas.
Microwaving for Quick Results
When needing to quickly heat up tortillas, Mexican restaurants may use the microwave:
- Stack tortillas on a microwave-safe plate.
- Lightly dampen a paper towel and cover tortillas.
- Microwave in 30 second intervals until warm, about 60 seconds total.
- Check that tortillas are not becoming dried out or hard.
While fast, microwaving can make corn tortillas chewy, so it’s not always the ideal choice. But it works in a pinch!
Steaming for Softness
Steaming is another traditional restaurant technique that keeps corn tortillas warm and soft:
- Lightly mist tortillas with water and stack.
- Wrap stack in a damp kitchen towel.
- Place wrapped tortillas in a steamer basket over boiling water for 1-2 minutes.
- Remove and serve immediately while still warm and pliable.
The steam keeps the tortillas moist, making them perfect for soft tacos or enchiladas.
Specialized Tortilla Warmers
Many Mexican restaurants use specialized tortilla warming units:
- Tortilla warmers are covered ceramic dishes that sit over low heat.
- Simply place stack of tortillas inside, cover, and apply gentle heat.
- Keep tortillas at a constant warm temperature as you replenish the stack.
These convenient tortilla warmers allow restaurants to always have fresh warm tortillas ready for serving.
Tips for Avoiding Pitfalls
To ensure delicious results when heating corn tortillas:
- Heat tortillas just until warm, not crispy hard.
- Don’t microwave them too long or they’ll dry out.
- Avoid steaming corn tortillas as it makes them mushy.
- Let oven-baked tortillas rest wrapped in foil before serving.
With the right techniques, Mexican restaurants can serve up incredible tacos, enchiladas, and tostadas all topped with warm and wonderful corn tortillas! Now that you know their secrets, you can achieve restaurant-quality tortillas at home.