Not Your Mama's Comal
You know what it isn't, but what IS it?
Some of you are probably thinking, “those look pretty cool but what the heck are they and what would I do with it?” Well, if you’re from New Mexico then you know exactly what it is. If you’re from anywhere in the Southwest you most likely know what it is. If you’re from any other part of the country, it’s hit or miss whether or not you’re familiar with these unique items.
I think we’re all familiar with using a griddle to make pancakes. They’re readily available at any department store. These days griddles are made of cheap Teflon-coated aluminum. I’ve heard more than one person say that her griddle warped after a few short uses. Back in the day, however, griddles were made of cast iron. They were sturdy and would pretty much last forever. While these particular griddles could be used for making pancakes, around these parts they were used mainly for cooking flour tortillas.
When I say “around these parts”, I mean northern New Mexico, where the cuisine is similar to Mexican food but actually quite unique to the region. New Mexico is the chile capital of the world and even though everyone seems to know about "Hatch" chile, the small town where I grew up, Chimayo, is actually known around the country for its flavorful chile. More on this in my blog about our everlasting chile ristras but the reason I bring this up is because nearly everyone in New Mexico and especially in northern New Mexico eats chile with every meal. In my mother's kitchen, displayed on the wall was a framed print; a sketch of a kitchen with food on the table, which said, “Comida sin chile no es comida!” “Food without chile is not food!”
What does this have to do with a comal? Well, at one time, in kitchens across the state, tortillas were also a staple at every meal and women (and even some men) made them daily. My mama was one of those people and thus I grew up with fresh tortillas everyday because, like most working husbands, my dad insisted on it. Ironically it was my Chimayoso dad who taught my mom how to make tortillas. Mom was Chicana from northern New Mexico also but for whatever reason (I have an idea) she was not much of a cook when they met. She was an oddity of sorts. But, indeed he taught her quite a bit about cooking.
I learned how to make tortillas when I was 12 and I made tortillas quite a bit when I was growing up. It was actually my sisters who taught me how to make them. My sister Tish, who is ten years older than me, learned how to make tortillas when she was 8 and became the "official" tortilla maker of the family, that is until she left the house at which point I became the tortilla maker. Luckily for me I wasn't feeding a family of seven. By the time I started making them most of my siblings were already out of the house. As I got older my sister Benita taught me how to cook some of the other traditional meals including the best posole and green chile chicken enchiladas. She is also the person who helped me "perfect" the tortilla. Even though it's still a staple at most traditional northern New Mexican meals, these days I rarely make them.
In Mexico and southern New Mexico, corn tortillas are also a staple, but not so much in northern New Mexico where flour tortillas rule the day. Either way, cooks across the state, into Texas and Mexico, and in other parts of the southwest still make tortillas everyday or even every week. Those of us who aren’t quite as committed just buy them at the grocery stores where they’re readily available. This is precisely why I only make them rarely.
If you've never had a warm, fresh tortilla with real butter you don't know what you're missing! Also, one of my favorite ways to eat tortillas, preferably fresh also, is with a whole, peeled, or peeled and chopped, roasted green chile with a little salt and garlic. Pure heaven.
Like most cooks, my mama had one of those cast iron comales and it’s still going strong but the comales we make here at Fire Forms are not made of cast iron. They’re made of 3/16 inch steel, either hot roll or cold roll, and we’ve added a twist – beautiful designs are cut into the comal and if you’re interested in something custom you can contact us and we’ll get that done for you as well. You can obviously cook your flour or corn tortillas on the comal but you most certainly can also warm up store-bought tortillas.
These days you can purchase tortillas that are ready to be cooked or you can even find the precursor to the “masa” (dough), which is ready to make: just add water. There’s really no excuse that we all couldn’t have fresh tortillas daily or at least as often as we want. I’m not an advocate for many carbs (full disclosure) but every once in a while you just MUST eat some good ol’ fashioned New Mexican comfort food and that is just not possible without tortillas. Ahem, burritos anyone? The recipe for tortillas is simple anyway so it wouldn’t really put you out too much if you made them from scratch every once in a while but if you don’t have the time, there’s a solution. What is the best part about using our comales to cook or warm your tortilla, you ask? The image from the comal transfers to the tortilla!
Our comales are beautiful and artistic and offer beauty to any kitchen, regardless of whether you even like tortillas (is this a trick question? Who doesn’t like tortillas?). So, while your mama’s comal was most certainly beautiful, this is Not Your Mama’s Comal! We also offer a display stand so you can keep it on your countertop as a work of art and part of your kitchen decor. Each comal is CNC cut, hand finished and signed by award-winning metal artist Gil Romero. It is a perfectly unique gift for anyone who has a kitchen! Our single comales are perfect for making or warming tortillas but also to roast a few chiles at a time. We also carry double comales, which, as any true New Mexican cook knows, comes in extremely handy to cook the tortillas twice as fast. These are also perfect for roasting several chiles at a time.
And, seriously, tortillas and chile are the most important components of any New Mexican meal!
My brother, Danny Romero met you recently and as you know our family is from Llano Largo. I was born in Espanola but live in Albuquerque and was interested in your beautiful work, specifically a comal. Can you make a comal with the design of a horned toad? Gracias y Prosperous Ano Nuevo. Margaret Romero
I recently received a (beautiful) sugar skull comal from my sister as a Christmas gift. Do you have a recipe for corn tortillas for the comal? I typically don’t use flour as I have a gluten sensitivity. I live in NYC, so using a comal is definitely not in my usual repertoire.
Is it possible to make one with the letters as thin as possible and the lettering would be:
ACTS 2:38? Large round comal
I received a comal for Christmas. I have read all your articles and how to care for your comal, but I am unsure about how to clean and cure it for the first time before use. I understand once you use it, you just wipe it clean. But before first use, how do you cure it?