PATI'S MEXICAN TABLE

August 1, 2009 10:00 AM
Comal
POSTED IN: Kitchen Tools , The Basics
TAGS: aluminum , cast iron , clay , Comal , griddle , kitchen tool , non stick , pan , teflon , utensil
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An essential cooking tool in Mexican kitchens, a comal is a flat plate or griddle, typically made with cast iron and a rim around the edges. They are usually round and found in many sizes, though there are some rectangular versions too. There are also comales made with aluminum, and in later years it has become quite popular to use the non-stick/teflon versions as they are more user friendly.

Comales were traditionally made, for centuries, with clay. In the countryside there are plenty of homes and fondas that still use clay comales and tend to have one for making tortillas and corn masa foods and another for charring or toasting vegetables and spices (continue for more information and photos).

Here you can see the three different types of comales. In the back is a rectangular teflon, followed by an aluminum comal which is happily showing seasoning and aging signs, and up front is an old cast iron comal. Whichever comal you have, clean it lightly, with warm water, soap and a gentle sponge, so that if it is cast iron or aluminum it will slowly season and if it is teflon it will not scratch.


Far away comales.jpg
Here is a more close up view...

Close up comal.jpg
Comales tend to be passed down through generations and are deeply esteemed. The comal that I treasure the most, up front in the above photos, comes from my mothers' kitchen. It has about of 40 years of cooking life, has a beautiful black color with dark brown areas and it is not completely flat. It has dents, chips and texture developed through time and travels, which speak its history every time I cook in it.

When I went to Yucatán in December of 2008, I got a very large silver colored aluminum comal which is already starting to develop blackened areas throughout, but it will take a while for it to be seasoned and to flavor foods as intensely as my older comal. 

Comales are used for many things such as cooking tortillas, sopes, quesadillas and other related masa foods; charring tomatoes, tomatillos, fresh chiles, onion and garlic; toasting seeds, nuts, dried chiles and other spices; cooking vegetables like nopales or catcus paddles, corn, big texas style onions and scallions, among other things.

You can substitute a comal with any other kind of cast iron plate or griddle or a heavy dry skillet, preferably non-stick if making tortillas.

However, there are benefits from having your own comal.  For one thing, as other Mexican kitchen tools such as molcajetes, aluminum and cast iron comales age with you, season with time and retain a memory of the flavors from their cooking life that permeates future foods cooked in them. Another benefit is that the comal infuses food with a rustic griddle flavor, lighter than a grill or smoker, but peculiar, rich and deep in its own way.  
 
 Comales are such an integral part of Mexican cuisine and culture that a town of one of Mexico's most famous novels is named after it. If you like reading, I recommend it! It is called Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo. It tells the story of a man who travels to the hometown of his dying mother, and along the way he runs into a ghost town called Comala, which translates to a place that makes comales. The fictional town of Comala (though there is a real town called Comala too, if not more...) has probably become larger than the novel and even the author in Mexican folklore and culture. It is said that the author gave it this name because the fictional town was eternally burning hot, just like a comal, which is typically used for long periods of time, many times a day and takes a long while to cool off.







Comments

I inherited my comal from my suegra and now I have no idea how I would live without it.

Lilly | August 28, 2009 12:14 PM

¡Hola, Patricia! Te escribo desde Puerto Rico. Encontré tu blog hace dos días cuando buscaba información sobre los comales. Tengo uno, que atesoro, el cual compré en una visita que hice a Guatemala. En una de las conecciones que brinda Google sale tu blog. Para mí ha resultado un tesoro descubierto.
Aunque aún tengo que adentrarme en tus archivos de meses anteriores, lo que he visto me agrada mucho. Tu participación en el programa de Paula Deen quedó fabulosa. ¡Felicitaciones! La gracia de Paula y tu naturalidad y sabor latino, chispeante le dieron un tono muy agradable a la presentación.
¡Salud y muchas bendiciones para tí y tu hermosa familia en este nuevo año!
Cordialmente,
Ruth

Ruthiris E. Torres Cruz | January 3, 2010 9:08 PM

Muchas gracias Ruth! Me da mucho gusto que hallas encontrado mi blog y que te guste... Seguiré poniendo más información y recetas que espero te sirvan. ¡Saludos!

Pati Jinich replied to comment from Ruthiris E. Torres Cruz | January 3, 2010 9:10 PM

Hola Pati,
Encontre tu blog por medio del sitio de Paula Deen. Que gusto ver tu amor para la cocina Mexicana. En lo que se refiere a comales, en las tiendas de deportes, venden una marca Lodge que es buenisima. Tengo un comal que herede de mi abuela y uno mas moderno doble que esta fabuloso. Gracias por tener un sitio tan bonito! Desde la frontera de Texas con Mexico, un saludo!
Patsy

Patsy Perez | January 8, 2010 1:02 PM

Patsy,
Muchas gracias por tu mensaje y muchas gracias por tu tip del comal moderno!!

Pati Jinich replied to comment from Patsy Perez | January 8, 2010 1:41 PM

After watching you on the Paula Deen show, I decided to find a Comal like the one in her show. You said that your mother gave it to you and that it was "cast iron" I finally found one (without the handle/handles) and ordered it online. I'm still waiting for mine to arrive, the price doubled because of the weight to ship. LOL!


The next day after I ordered, I watched the show repeat (after your twitter alert)and when that segment of the show came on with your Comal on Paula's back stove, one of you lifted it up, but this time it looked to me like it was too thin for cast iron and I thought I saw silver metal.


My question- you said the Comal that your mother gave you is "cast iron" but did you mean stainless steel, aluminum or some other metal?

Thanks, love your website and tweets!
Darla

AZtweetr ( Darla ) | January 14, 2010 2:01 PM

Hi Darla, Thank you!! Yes! The comal my mother gave me, which is somewhat thin is cast iron. And I love it dearly. However I have another one home which is aluminum, much larger and ironically thicker and heavier, and I use that one for when I am making a ton of tortillas. I think you will love the cast iron that you are getting. It will last ages and season as you cook in it (!)

Pati Jinich replied to comment from AZtweetr ( Darla ) | January 14, 2010 2:13 PM

Hi again, Pati!

My Comal arrived last week, it is the thin cast iron that you said that you have, I love it! Mine is a large oval (called a "jumbo comal or extra large fajita pan" by the seller. I have seasoned it twice and it is now ready to go, tonight I will be trying it out.

Thanks for the help and clarification. :)

Darla

AZtweetr (Darla) | February 7, 2010 4:35 PM

Hi Darla,
I am so thrilled for you!!! You are going to be able to make such scrumptious things using your new comal. Let it age and season and the more you use it, the more flavor you will get from it. Enjoy!

Pati Jinich replied to comment from AZtweetr (Darla) | February 7, 2010 11:04 PM

Pati, porque no estas en el canal Food Network? :)

Bev | February 28, 2010 6:47 PM

Hello Pati, I just today bought a round silver, aluminum Comal. Do I season it before using it? Any other hints how I should care for it? The package had no instructions.

Thanks!!

Monica | August 27, 2010 3:33 PM

Hi Monica,
Great! Just start using it! There is no need to ever have it over high heat. You should use it low, low-medium or medium heat. Before you use it, let it heat for a couple minutes. To wash, just lightly wash with soapy water. But don't scrub it hard, that way it will begin to season. Best wishes for all the yummy things you will cook there!

Pati Jinich replied to comment from Monica | August 27, 2010 6:36 PM

Hi Pati,

Since we are talking comals I was wondering if you have a recipe for flour tortillas and/or a video showing you making them?
I have to learn how to make them before my mom leaves this earth. no one makes them like her.

Thanks,
Ramon

Ramon Rivera | June 17, 2011 9:01 PM

Hi Ramon, I will try to put a post on the website on making flour tortillas soon! I have one up already for making corn tortillas, I hope you check it out!

Pati Jinich replied to comment from Ramon Rivera | June 28, 2011 10:20 AM

I have 2 comals that I bought in Mexico to use for roasting tomatoes, tomatillos, garlic, and onions for Mexican salsas and for other sauses, too. Rather than cast iron, they are sheet metal (hoja de metal?). They seem to be the type pictured here in your blog but are more the type of metal that is formed into stainless steel pots and pans rather than the much heavier material that is used for cast iron skillets. I had been looking at them in the mercado for a long time and finally got the courage to get some after reading your blog. Thanks. Pat

Pat | July 15, 2012 10:33 AM

So happy you bought the comals Pat. You will love them!

Pati Jinich replied to comment from Pat | July 19, 2012 12:53 PM