Home Food This Masa Harina Batter Can Make Anything Taste Like Tortilla Chips

This Masa Harina Batter Can Make Anything Taste Like Tortilla Chips

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Typically chefs use masa to make the pliable tortillas we top with just about anything. Typically chefs use masa to make the pliable tortillas we top with just about anything. But it’s made into a panoply of other shapes too, such as steamy tamales, filled sopes, and chochoyotes, to name just a few. Besides the dishes that are defined by masa, you can also use it in pancakes, shortcakes, cornbread, cookies, and—my current crush—fried chicken.

This idea came by way of a spacey mistake. Even though I’m a professional chef, I’m not always meticulous in the kitchen, especially my own during off hours. One day, when I was fulfilling an obligation to make tamales for my friends (google Rosca de Reyes and tiny baby Jesus to get why), I accidentally poured twice as much water into the masa harina as I should have. It looked just like fry batter.

I ended up fixing those tamales, but the idea of turning masa dough into batter stuck. So I did it again, on purpose, with bone-in chicken pieces. The result: a super crispy, super flavorful crust. I tried all kinds of versions, but found that all you really need is masa harina, cornstarch, and water. To gild the lily for this recipe, some warm spices and musky lime zest tie it all together.

Masa dough can come together two ways: The first is from freshly ground nixtamalized corn, yielding a moist dough that holds an imprint of your thumb like memory foam. Made by Indigenous Mexican communities for years, freshly ground masa is having something of an American renaissance. The second way is from rehydrated masa harina, which is a shelf-stable flour of dried, ground nixtamalized corn. Nixtamalization sounds super science-y, but just imagine it as a process that “spins corn into gold.” Dried corn is steeped in water mixed with calcium hydroxide, which is an alkaline solution. This allows the outer shell to be easily removed and makes the corn more digestible, nourishing, and flavorful.

Masa harina has a lot of big benefits over all-purpose flour. It’s naturally gluten-free, which is great if you’re looking for that, but it’s so much more than that too. When you batter chicken in masa, you’re equipping the chicken with a sturdy, crisp exterior, helping it stay juicy and tender. Also, just like that botched tamale dough, masa batter can be really forgiving. Thin with more liquid or thicken with more masa harina—the range of good results is vast. As the chicken cooks, the batter puffs more than AP would, creating a crispy-yet-light crust. The best part though? The distinctly tortilla chip–esque flavor.

Masa batter doesn’t have to be just for chicken. It can be used for anything you’d shallow- or deep-fry. Batter shrimp and serve with a fresh salsa. Batter cheese-stuffed poblanos for a take on chile rellenos. Batter onion rings, green beans, or zucchini for a snacky appetizer. Even batter bananas, figs, or peaches, then bring on the vanilla ice cream.

Platter of fried chicken.
Masa-Fried Chicken With Lime Cabbage Slaw

These crunchy tenders will give you tortilla chip vibes in the best way (and they just so happen to be gluten-free).

View Recipe

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