The secret behind making nixtamal and tortillas

Having just returned from a few weeks off in Mexico, I thought I would post something about the mainstay of Mexican food, corn, and particularly how to prepare nixtamal and corn tortillas the traditional way.

What is nixtamal?

Nixtamal is dry corn soaked in and cooked in a solution of slaked lime and water. Slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) should not be confused with unslaked lime (calcium oxide), which cannot be used to prepare nixtamal. To slake lime, you first add it to water, allow it to bubble, let it stand for a bit and then you use the water to process the corn.

Preparing nixtamal may sound complicated but is actually very simple. First, mix lime and water in a large non reactive pot, then place over high heat. The proportions are about 500 grams of corn for 1 tablespoon of lime. When the lime is fully dissolved, add the corn and bring to the boil. If making nixtamal for masa to make tortillas, boil for a couple of minutes, remove from heat, cover and leave to soak overnight. The next morning, rinse the corn in a colander to remove the lime while rubbing the corn kernels to remove the softened hulls. Once cleaned, the nixtamal can then be ground into masa.

If you want to do this the traditional way, you should use a metate (a flat stone made of lava rock) and mano (flat oval shaped rolling pin, made from the same lava rock)

metate y masa harina_commons license

Metate and mano

to grind the corn into masa. If you don’t have one, you can also use a hand cranked grinding machine, making sure you grind it as fine as your machine allows.

After the nixtamal has been put through the mill, you should work water into the masa, until you achieve a dough of medium to soft consistency.

Making tortillas

Now is where the real fun begins. To make tortillas, knead the masa until it becomes smooth, pushing with the heel of the hand (3 to 5 minutes). Wrap the dough in film to prevent it from drying. Place a comal or a heavy-bottom frying pan over medium-high heat.

Break off a piece of the dough, place it in the dough press between 2 squares of waxed paper or plastic,

tortilla press_commons license

Tortilla press

to keep your tortillas from sticking to the press, then press hard. Remove the tortilla from the press, then peel off the plastic. If the dough has the correct amount of water, the plastic will peel off easily. If the plastic sticks, the dough is too wet. If the tortilla cracks around the edges, the dough is to dry.

Tortillas on comal_commons license

Baking handmade tortillas


Baking tortillas

Bake the tortilla in the ungreased frying pan until the edges start to dry (about 30 seconds),  then flip and bake for another 30 seconds. Cover to keep warm, you’re done !


Foraging: Rosehip syrup

Rosehips are now ripe all over my local area. Here is a quick and simple recipe for Rosehip Syrup.

  • 1 kg of fresh rosehips wfresh_rosehipith blossom end removed;
  • 1 liter of boiling water;
  • 1 kilo sugar.

Boil the rosehips for 2 minutes and let them infuse for 30 minutes. Mash up the rosehips, let them infuse for another 10 minutes and drain through a jelly bag.


Reserve the liquid. Add the sugar and bring back to the boil.
Bottle in sterilized bottles.

Let’s burn food!

The kitchen at Mugaritz (by Krista – CC license)

When you look at what Michelin-starred top chefs are doing these days, it looks like everyone is into burning food. Ash is on the menu at NOMA, with celeriac rubbed in hay ash and cooked in salt-crust pastry and at MUGARITZ, with an interesting dish of brined squid and ginger, garlic paste and a broth of burnt vegetables, as well as a grilled toast of bone marrow with herbs and radish ash.

Mugaritz – Dices of brined squid, ginger garlic paste and a broth of burnt vegetables

At NOMA, MUGARITZ and EPICURE, and some others, burnt leeks can be found on the menu, as the humble leek appears to be one of the most “burnable” products available. Heston Blumental makes hay-smoked mackerel, layering hay and mackerel fillets in a fish barbecue clamp and then blowtorching the hay-fish sandwich…

Danish chef Christoffer Hruskova does beef fillet in burnt hay. He burns 500g of hay until black, blends it into a fine powder and rolls his cooked fillet of beef in the hay.

Mugaritz – Grilled toast of bone marrow with herbs and radish ash

Using a slightly less direct approach, Pascal Aussignac, at CLUB GASCON, makes a juniper ash flavoured olive oil. He roasts 10g of juniper berries, uses a blowtorch to make juniper ash and then mixes it with 400ml of olive oil.

Adam Byatt, at TRINITY, simmers partridge, adds hay to the pan, sets it alight “to get the smoky notes coming through” and finishes cooking it in the oven.

Tom Sellers, at STORY, does a dish of burnt onion, apple, gin and thyme.

Clément Leroy, at AUBERGE DU JEU DE PAUME (2 Michelin stars), cooks “burnt mackerel & pink radish”. The fish is marinated in salt and vinegar before being lightly blowtorched. The flavor is more progressive than if the flesh had been smoked and the product retains its almost raw and unadulterated nature.

“It is a technique of Japanese origin named yakisaba, explains Leroy, yaki means “grilled” and saba “mackerel”.


Finnish chef Mickael Viljanen, at GREENHOUSE, uses burning branches of juniper for cooking shellfish on. He also burns liquorice root until it turns amberish and roast carrots on it. As he says, “There’s so much you can do. There are no rules. Last year I got some reindeer moss and smoked that with hay and it smelt like the woodland when it came out with the venison.”

At YLAJALI (Oslo), the menu includes (or included as the restaurant is apparently closed) three “burnt” dishes: grilled leek, hazelnuts, cress & löjrom with Røros sour cream; quail eggs glazed in brown butter and leek ashes, with potatoe and leek ash chips; and mussels baked with hay (which makes me think of picnics on the beach in Brittany, with mussels carefully positioned in a single layer on a plank, then covered in hay or straw, which you set fire to).

At EPICURE (Hotel Bristol), Eric Fréchon (3 Michelin stars) cooks “grilled leeks from Ile-de-France, seaweed butter, tartare of oysters, white pear, spring onion and lemon”.

Huge leeks, as black as charcoal, are used as containers and contain a mix of the leek’s creamy pulp, whole oysters, oyster tartare, spring onions and toasted rye bread.

To round things off, here’s an interesting little recipe which I encourage you to try: Burnt onion butter

Chop a small onion, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally and adding water if necessary, until dark brown and very soft. Let cool. Mix the butter and caramelized onion, season with salt and transfer to ramekin, smoothing the top. Meanwhile, oven grill sliced onions on a baking sheet, turning occasionally, until dry and completely blackened. Once cool, grind to a powder and finish by dusting the butter with your burnt onion powder.

Discover Chef Laurent Petit

A few months ago I had the pleasure of meeting Laurent Petit, who runs his two-Michelin starred restaurant “Le Clos des Sens”, in Annecy (France) together with his wife Martine Coin. The son of a butcher, he defines himself as a “culinary artisan” and offers an elegant cuisine that is totally grounded in his local terroir, in his case the three lakes of Annecy, Geneva and Le Bourget and the soil of the Savoie region. For more information about Chef Laurent Petit, visit

« La création est un état d’esprit, toujours en éveil. La création est mon quotidien. D’un objet, d’une matière, de mots, d’une rencontre, d’un produit naîtra la prochaine recette.»



Miso paste

Miso paste remains a mystery for many people. Cooking with fermented soy beans can look a bit strange at first sight. It really shouldn’t be, so go ahead and experiment!

anchovies-and-eclairs.image04Miso is a Japanese condiment made from fermented soybean paste. To prepare it, “koji” is first made: a cereal (barley or rice most often) is cooked and seeded with a microscopic fungus (Aspergillus oryzae). Koji is then salted and mixed with cooked and crushed soybeans, which will be fermented for several days or weeks to several years, depending on the kind of miso to be produced. In general, the more fermented a miso, the stronger its texture, the darker its color and the more pronounced its flavour.

Hatcho miso (pure soybean miso – no grains are added) is a dark, dense and full-bodied pure soy bean miso. It is the result of a long fermentation and is chocolate-colored, almost ebony black, less salty, firmer and dryer than the others, with a very typical and concentrated flavour.

Shiro miso (white miso), actually light yellow in color, is made with fermented soy beans and rice. Fermentation is short, which which gives it a mild and sweet flavour. This is the most versatile miso and probably the best choice if you buy only one miso.

Shinshu miso (yellow miso) is made with fermented soy beans and barley. It is slightly stronger than white miso and works well in dressings, soups, marinades and glazes.

Aka miso (red miso) is the saltiest and most pungent variety of miso. It is made with fermented soybeans and barley or another grain, ranges from dark brown to red in color and can be used in marinades and glazes for heartier dishes, like meats and certain vegetables, such as eggplant.


What is dashi?

Dashi is a must-have ingredient and is the basis for miso soup, udon and ramen broth and many other recipes. To make dashi stock, you must first prepare kelp stock, by soaking kombu in water overnight.

You then add what people often call “bonito” fish flakes, although the fish that is actually used to make dried fish flakes is skipjack tuna.

  • 1 liter kelp stock
  • 30 grams katsuobushi (dried skipjack tuna flakes)

  1. Place the prepared kelp stock in a large pot over medium heat and heat up to 80° C. It is important not to bring the stock to a boil. Add the fish flakes, gently pushing the flakes down into the stock. When the stock comes back to a gentle simmer, turn off the heat and leave the fish flakes in the stock for about 5 minutes.
  2. Strain the stock and reserve the fish flakes. Your dashi should be very clean and clear. It should be used within three days.
  3. After making your first dashi stock, you can reuse the leftover fish flakes and make a second batch. Again, combine kelp stock and the leftover katsuoboshi. Bring to 80° C, add another 15 grams of fresh fish flakes. When the stock comes back to a gentle simmer, turn off the heat, let sit for 5 minutes and strain.