I’ve got a recipe that calls for adding a bit of ‘massa flour’ to a stew/soup shortly before seasoning.
Um…don’t have any, and don’t know where to buy any. Plus, if it comes in 5 pound sacks, well, the recipe only needs 2 tbsp, and what will I do with the rest?
From the timing of the addition, I’m guessing the point is to thicken the stew a bit. Could I just substitute ordinary flour? Or corn starch? “Massa” seems like it might mean corn (maize), so could I use corn meal, maybe whirled in a foodprocessor until it’s flour like?
Anyone know what substitute might be best?
I personally think it should be “Masa”, but that’s just the way it’s spelled on the packages in my local supermarket.
Masa flour, as you suggest, is corn flour. In my experience, it is usually white. It is generally not as coarsely ground as cornmeal, but it is generally more coarsely ground than white wheat flour. If you have an electric coffee mill, you could use it to grind down some yelllow cornmeal. To prepare a coffee mill to use on something other than coffee, grind a piece of white bread in it.
Another thing you could try (and I would have no hesitation in trying it) is to tear a corn tortilla into small pieces and mill that.
You can’t use regular cornmeal to make some of the things masa is used for (e.g., tamales and tortillas), but it might be okay if it is just to be used as a thickener. I think it would be a good idea to grind it though.
Also, I should do a better job of reading the entire OP before I race to be the first to answer.
A food processor, with its high-capacity working bowl, might be problematic in yielding the amount that you’re looking for, hence, my suggestion of an electric coffee mill. You could also improvise some mortar and pestle action on corn tortillas, using a rolling pin and some waxed paper. Flour or cornstarch will work as thickening agents, but the masa flour would impart a different flavor.
As to what you could do with five pounds of masa flour after you use two tablespoons, why, make tortillas!
Masa harina is not just plain old ordinary corn flour. It’s a finely ground and dried form of masa (literally, “dough”). Masa is made from corn that’s been treated with slaked lime (as in the mineral, not the fruit) and then ground. Masa harina (which is what your recipe is calling for) is a dried version of the same. It is the stuff that is used to make tamales. I find that corn meal or corn flour is not an adequate substitute (although there are Mexican brands sold as “corn flour,” which are masa harina)
A little about masa and masa harina. It is ubiquitous in Mexican groceries.
If you can’t use masa harina to thicken your stew, feel free to put in a slurry of corn starch. You may need to adjust the amounts (I suspect you would need less corn starch than masa harina. Start with two to three teaspoons. If you need more thickening power, you can always add it later.) Unlike masa harina, corn starch doesn’t really affect the flavor of your dish much, as long as the rawness is cooked out (which it will need to be to thicken properly.) Masa harina adds a definite earthy, grainy, maizey note to your dishes. It’s a wonderful thickener for chili and other stews.
Thank you all fo r the useful info! Yes, it’s undoubtedly “masa” – my mother took the recipe down from a radio interview, and had never heard of it either.
As to what I’ll do… hmmm. First choice, I’ll ask around at work and see if I can bum some masa from someone. I mean, two tablespoons, that’s a tiny bit, no one will miss it, right?
If that fails (and it’s likely to, Vermont isn’t exactly known for its Little Mexico regions) I’ll buy some tortillas and ‘reverse engineer’ them.