I wish there was a way to somehow transmute humble corn meal into the masa harina that’s needed for corn tortillas, however there’s really no substitute. Corn masa (dough) comes in two forms: ready made dough which is sold in tubs and is only available in larger cities with established Mexican communities, or dried instant masa, also called masa harina, which you can acquire at many speciality shops or via the internet. Back home in Chicago the fresh dough was easy to find. Here in Kentucky I can still get the instant, which in my view is just as good. Everyone from Quaker to Goya to Maseca makes instant masa, just make sure that whatever you buy says “for tortillas” on it. The recipe goes like this:
8.5 ounces (2 cups) instant tortilla mix
1/4 teaspoon salt
9.25 ounces (1 1/4 cups) water
Whisk together the salt and tortilla mix, then add the water. Knead it together by hand, adding more water as necessary to create a dough that doesn’t crack at the edges when it’s rolled. Divide the dough into 12 pieces, about 1.5 ounces each. Roll the pieces into balls and place under a cloth to keep them from drying out. Using a rolling pin and two pieces of thick plastic (cut from a Ziploc-type freezer bag) or parchment, roll the balls into circles about 6″ across. Griddle the tortillas as you work or stack them between sheets of plastic wrap (you can hold them that way for several hours).
To finish, heat a cast iron skillet or 6″ omelet pan to medium. Apply the tortillas one at a time. Toast for 45 seconds, flip and toast another 45, until small brown spots appear on the underside, then flip once more for a few seconds. When the tortilla starts to puff up, it’s done. Let each tortilla cool on a towel for a minute or so before transferring to the stack, which you’ll want to keep in a tortilla warmer or wrapped in a towel. Deliver to the table warm.
Corn tortillas can be refrigerated, but don’t do as well in the freezer. They’re best made and eaten fresh.