Sopes: Like Nachos, Only Better

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.

Leftover masa

Whatever toppings you have lying around (even just beans and cheese would be good)

Vegetable oil for frying

Salsa (optional)

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in oven until you’ve finished them all. Fill and serve immediately, with salsa.


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