Welcome to ¡Ask a Tortilla Tournament Judge!, the world’s premier column on all things tortilla. Each week throughout the 2021 Tortilla Tournament of Champions, judge Gustavo Arellano will take your most burning (but never burnt) tortilla questions. Grab your butter and salsa macha, because things are about to get caliente.
Right now in Chicago, we have an El Milagro shortage (which are the best tortillas here, IMO). I was just at the local grocery store and found a stack of eight, so I took four (because my mama raised me not to be greedy) and decided I would freeze a few packages. I hate to ask because the thought of it makes me sad — because who wants to freeze tortillas? — but what is the best way to freeze them?
— Wondering in the Windy City
I can’t wait until my KCRW Tortilla Tournament gets to Chicago in about a decade (we still need to pass through San Diego, the Central Valley, and the Bay Area first — and Texas, you’ve been warned), because El Milagro is a good tortilla. It’s a Little Village icon that goes back to 1950 and whose brand is as known across the Midwest as Romero’s is in the Southland. Over the past couple of weeks, fans have lined up around the block of its factory because El Milagro isn’t stocking Chicagoland stores right now due to a shortage that they have yet to address.
But there is no shame in freezing tortillas — far from it. For our Tortilla Tournament, we always freeze all 64 contestants to ensure everyone starts on an equal footing. The best way to freeze them, of course, is in a Ziploc — or its generic competitors — freezer bag, and that’s it. When you’re ready to eat them, scrape off the ice so that the tortillas do get TOO much moisture on them, and pat down the water as necessary. Usually, the top and bottom tortillas can be tossed because they’ll be too wet, but the rest of your pack will be fine. I’ve even defrosted Miramar corn tortillas — my favorite SoCal brand — after a year, and they tasted as delicious as if I had just gone to their Boyle Heights spot. A great tortilla is eternal.
If Gavin Newsom and Larry Elder were tortilla brands, what would they be?
— No More Tortilla Tyrants
Elder is obviously a Mission corn tortilla — all filler, no substance, and ultimately forgettable despite its ubiquity. Newsom is a La Tortilla Factory low-carb whole wheat tortilla — a Bay Area standard with presence across the Golden State that gets the job done, but also isn’t as extraordinary as people make it out to be, especially considering there are far better working-class options in Southern California. Wait, did I say the quiet part loud?
Three days, 400 miles, and 16 tortillerías: The diary of Gustavo’s Tortilla Runner
Tortilla Tournament 2021, Week One: The old-school dominates
¡Ask a Tortilla Tournament Judge!: What’s the best way to heat a tortilla?
The secret behind HomeState’s continued success: Its tortilla queens
Behold! KCRW and Gustavo’s Great Tortilla Tournament of Champions