Ask a Tortilla Tournament Judge! Gustavo Arellano answers your questions

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Tortillas from Tortilleria Playa Azul. Photo by Samanta Helou Hernandez for KCRW

KCRW and Gustavo Arellano’s Tortilla Tournament returns! Four finalists will face off live for a virtual celebration of all things tortilla October 18. RSVP here!

SO….back in the day, I used to do a column called ¡Ask a Mexican! where people would send me questions about Mexicans, and I would answer it. Fun while it lasted! Today, I do an IG Live session every Tuesday night at 10:15 PST called “Grítale a Guti” (Shout at Guti) where I take your questions about ANYTHING.


Tortillas from El Ruso. Photo by Samanta Helou Hernandez for KCRW

But for KCRW, I will take people’s questions about tortillas. 

Got a good one? Email me at mexicanwithglasses@gmail.com and I’ll answer some next week. For now, let’s start with these four vital ones: 

Do you have an opinion on which grocery-store tortillas are the best? I know that’s kind of like comparing apples to oranges, but I always have to have a supply of tortillas on hand, and don’t always have the luxury of heading to one of our local taquerias for them. 

Flip them Fast

Dear FTF: Actually, you do have the luxury of great tortillas not too far away from you if you live in Southern California — that’s the whole point of the #TortillaTournament, you know? Besides, if you can wait for an hour prepandemic for some Howlin’ Ray’s, surely you can drive to Eastlos or Compton for some good tortillerias— you’re not in Kansas, Toto. And even Kansas has tortillerias nowadays.

And you should seek out the smaller spots, because the tortilla selection at non-Mexican grocery stores can getiffy. All will carry evil-gross Mission and Guerrero brand tortillas, but some might carry the ubiquitous (and delicious) Diana’s Mexican Foods tortillas. If you go to Stater Brothers and Walmarts in Southern California — the choice of shop for what’s left of Southern California’s white working class — you’ll encounter my choice for quesadillas: Romero’s, a Santa Fe Springs-based treat that’s been around since the 1960s. And if your gringo grocer doesn’t have Diana’s or Romero’s? Get thee to Northgate.

Is it true that there’s a “right” side to the tortilla? If so, why should anyone care?

Masa Messiah 

There is! The outside of the tortilla is the thicker, darker side, while the inside is lighter in color and where your ingredients should be. Why does this matter? Because the fold will be easier if you put the ingredients on the inside side of the tortilla, whether it’s for a taco or a quesadilla. If you try to defy nature and put your ingredients on the outside part? It’s like trying to connect the opposite sides of magnets, or make UCLA football into a reliable winner — it’s just not going to happen.

This whole tournament is a sham because tortilla tasting is so subjective. Besides, who made you guys judges?

Mick Rayless 

First off, I’m the only guy among the judges — and I picked them for their expertise (Evan Kleiman is Evan Kleiman, Connie Alvarez knew the Diana’s girls before they were cool, and first-timer Mona Holmes knows her L.A. food because she’s with Eater L.A.). And while you might think tortilla truth is subjective, I know that it’s eternal. 

Take three of our top seeds this year — Taco Maria and Kernel of Truth for corn, and HomeState for flour. I make sure to rotate the top seeds every year to ensure fairness among judges, and they’re the only tortillas (along with the mysterious Jimenez Ranch Market in SanTana for flour) to have advanced to the Suave 16 every year of the #TortillaTournament’s existence. Why? Because they’re that good.

But what do I know? I’m the nerd who thought up the damn concept… 

Will tortillas still taste good if they’re frozen, then defrosted? 

Wondering in Winnetka 

The best tortillas come straight from the comal, just after they’re heated. But unless you’re eating at a restaurant where you see this process happen, or make them at home, you’re probably not going to eat them at this decisive moment. Besides, you also can’t eat all the fresh tortillas you just bought — so freezing some packets is not only advisable, but necessary.

For instance, I travel to Miramar Tortilleria in East Los Angeles at least once a month to load up on their amazing gordita corn tortillas, which remain my favorite brand in Southern California. I’ll buy at least 5 packs, keeping one for instant eating and another in the freezer. I’ve had Miramar tortillas last in my freezer for over a year, and defrosting them leads to only a microscopic loss in flavor, if at all. Remember: a great tortilla can defrost and remain great — and the first two rounds of our #TortillaTournament is proof.

Now, some freezing and defrosting tips: Put them in Ziploc bags and squeeze out all the moisture. Upon defrosting, toss out the top and bottom tortilla, as they’ll be remojadas (soaking wet) beyond taste. Lightly pat the rest of the tortillas with a cloth towel to remove any excess moisture. ¡Provecho!


Tortillas from Tortilleria Playa Azul. Photo by Samanta Helou Hernandez for KCRW

READ MORE:
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This Los Angeles Tortilla Life
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Tortilla Tournament, Week 1: Stunning upsets, favorites on the run!
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