One night after making piles of tamales (see our story in the December 2014 issue), I had some masa (corn dough) left over, and I couldn’t bear to toss it. So I made sopes. I formed little cups from the dough, baked them briefly, and fried them until crisp and golden.
The toppings? Whatever I could scrounge up in the Sunset test kitchen–refried beans, chorizo, serrano chiles, cabbage, shredded Jack cheese, and cilantro. If I’d had an avocado, I would have used it too. You really could put anything on these little suckers and they’d still taste good.
I finished them long after I’d thought everyone had gone home, yet magically a few late-working colleagues materialized in the test kitchen to help me gobble them up. The fragrance of corn has a way of traveling down corridors.
Crispy Masa Boats
Here’s the basic method, courtesy of author and restaurateur Rick Bayless, a cooking hero of mine. It’s loosely based on a recipe in his 1987 cookbook Authentic Mexico.
Whatever toppings you have lying around (even just beans and cheese would be good)
Vegetable oil for frying
- Heat oven to 200°. Roll your leftover masa into balls about 1 ½ inches wide and cover with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel.
- Heat a cast-iron frying pan over medium heat. Meanwhile, cut a large square out of a plastic freezer bag. Flatten one of the balls on it, the pat it out into a disk about 3/8 inches thick and 2 ½ inches in diameter. With the disk still on the plastic, flip it onto one hand, peel off the plastic, and lay it in the frying pan. Bake it about 2 minutes per side, or until lightly browned. Pat out and toast the rest of the masa balls this way
- With a sharp knife, slice each disk horizontally in half, like an English muffin. With the cooked side down, pinch up a ¼-in.-high border around each disk, mooshing out the soft center to help make the sides. As you work, cover the sopes with a damp kitchen towel so the don’t dry out.
- Pour enough vegetable oil into a deep soup pot to come ¾ in. up the sides. (I like using a soup pot because it corrals the spatters; you could also re-use the cast-iron frying pan.) Insert a deep-fry thermometer and heat over medium-high heat until it registers 360°. Fry the sope shells 3 or 4 at a time until light golden, 45 seconds to 1 minute; they should be crunchy outside, but soft and moist within.
- Drain on paper towels and keep warm in oven until you’ve finished them all. Fill and serve immediately, with salsa.