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Masa versus Masa Harina versus Masarepa

By Steve Dunn Published

The corn flour used in Latin American cooking comes in different forms, with names that can be confusing. Here's a guide to help you choose the right one for your recipe.

Corn flour is as fundamental to Latin American cooking as wheat flour is to American and European cuisines. It’s the basis for everything from tortillas to arepas to the Salvadoran/Honduran corn cakes called pupusas. The corn flour used in Latin American cooking is made from precooked corn; this distinguishes it from cornmeal, which is ground from uncooked dried corn. But unless you’re familiar with the various corn flour terms, it’s easy to confuse them. Here’s a guide.

Masa

What it is: Moist dough traditionally made by grinding nixtamalized corn kernels. Nixtamalized corn has been cooked and soaked in limewater, an alkaline solution of water and calcium hydroxide, which breaks down and gels some of the corn’s carbohydrates and makes the corn taste nuttier and more complex (think corn chips). The precooked corn is ground until it forms a mixture that holds together (masa is Spanish for “dough”); masa can also be made instantly by mixing masa harina (harina means “flour”) with water.

Masa Harina

What it is: Masa that has been dried and ground again into flour (hence its name, “dough flour”).

Common applications: Tortillas, tamales, pupusas, empanadas, sopes, gorditas, as a thickener for soups

Common brands: Maseca (labeled “Instant Corn Masa Flour”) (above left), Bob’s Red Mill

Masarepa

What it is: Instant corn flour made from precooked corn that has not been nixtamalized.

Common applications: Arepas

Common brands: P.A.N. (above right), Goya, Maseca CentroAmericana, Areparina

Recipe Pupusas

These savory stuffed corn cakes have a long history in El Salvador and Honduras. But for a version that even a rookie could pull off, we had to bring in some new techniques.

Recipe Pupusas with Beans and Cheese

These savory stuffed corn cakes have a long history in El Salvador and Honduras. But for a version that even a rookie could pull off, we had to bring in some new techniques.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.