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August 1, 2009 10:00 am | | HOME | BLOG HOME | ARCHIVES |
Pati Jinich Comales1.JPG

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.

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.

Here is a more close up view…

Close up comal.jpgComales 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 find comales in international, Asian and Latin stores, as well as on the web. Or, 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 in 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.


¡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

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!



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



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

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 (!)



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

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


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!!

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!



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

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!



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

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



I am a vegetarian. I do not eat eggs too.
I live in New Jersey.
Where can I buy :
Cast iron tortilla press – good quality
comal
Fresh Epazote

Thanks – you are the best. I have purchased your book and I am excited to try out everything vegetarian (no eggs).

Regards,
Kishore Kapadia

Thanks for getting my cookbook! If you live in NJ you won’t have any issue finding a comal (or a cast iron skillet instead). Just ask for the nearest Latino or international store! You can also look online. I would also ask your Latino store grocer for fresh epazote and even any Farmer’s Market near you…



Hi Pati, I just purchased a ceramic comal and the vendor gave me quick lime to season it. Her instructions were in Spanish-not my longsuit. Can you help? Thanks so much!
Janine

Hola Janine, All you need to do to season it is to use it!! Be sure to heat it over medium or medium-low heat until it is very hot. And don’t ever use it on high heat…



Hello, I am actually searching for a comal handle that went with an “old school” flat round cast iron comal. My Wela after many, many years has “misplaced” hers. I would love to make her day and find one for her. It was almost like a screw driver with a shallow hook that you put through a hole on one side of the comal. I have looked in all of our available tiendas mexicanas in our area, I am running out of options. Please if you have any ideas….

Hola Rachel, I’m blown away by how sweet you are to be looking for a new comal for your Wela! Have you tried searching online? You’d be surprised what you can find…

So after talking to her about it is not a comal after all. It is a hot plate from an old wood stove. She has carried these around with for a very long time. so after finding that out I was able to find the tool she needed to pick it up. Thanks for the tip though!




Hello
I was wondering Why you see people using 2 comal when making tortillas, they will cook and flip on the first one then place it on the second one. I guess am wondering why?

Thanks Mel.

Hi Mel,
My guess is that, when making large amounts of tortillas, it helps speed and organize the process: like an assembly line. When making at home, it is usually one comal that is used.



Tortillas (white and corn), crepes, pancakes, small amounts of stir fry…. to say nothing of naan and other flat breads!
my little 7.5″ and the larger 12″ comals are rarely not at hand!


Hi Pati,
I bought 2 comals made of cast iron much like a black cast iron skillet but flat. I was told by someone to not ever put oil or grease on them so I haven’t. I only use them for charring tomatoes, onion, chilies, and garlic for salsa. I find that the tomato skins stick and I am peeling off the charred skins for my salsa. Any suggestions as to the care of the comals?
Thank you,
Gina

Hi Gina,
Comales, like cast iron pans, get “seasoned” with time. You need to wash gently with soapy water and a soft sponge after you have used it and it has cooled. Don’t scratch it or roughly try to clean it.



These things are the best! I keep one dedicated for tortillas, another for charring, and I have another 2 for alternative uses. They are great for making personal sized pizzas! It’s great, just spray a little vegetable oil, lay out your thinly rolled pizza dough, and top your pizza the way you like it! Works in the oven and on the grill without the need to heat a pizza stone! Just keep an eye on them, especially on the grill. Next time we do it, I will try to take pictures. It really is amazing for pizza. We’ve also used them to brown potatoes and make fajitas on the grill.


Hi,
I found your site thru google. I was gifted what I believe is a comal that came from Oaxaca. It is the very old fashioned kind, made of clay. It has some sort of white coating on it (looks like whitewash). I’ve tried heating tortillas on it but the coating comes off and gets on the tortillas. Is there something special I need to do with this for seasoning it? I’m concerned about the white coating since I don’t know what it is. Any direction you could give me would be greatly appreciated as I would LOVE to try using this! Thanks so much!

Hola Karin, Thank you for writing to me! I recommend washing it well with warm water and soap, and then curing it by heating it over medium heat for at least 10 minutes. I also would heat it up over medium heat for at least 10 minutes every time before heating your tortillas. I hope this is helpful!



Hi Pati,

If I am using a clay comal on a gas stovetop, do I need to worry about getting a heat diffuser? Asking because one is usually recommended for a cazuela, tagine, or other clay vessel. Thank you!

PS- other than a comal, what other cooking utensils and food items are good to purchase in Mexico? Am fortunate to be headed to Mexico City in a few weeks. Thanks!

Hi Trisha!
No, you don’t need a heat diffuser. How great that you are moving to Mexico City! It is my hometown… Get some cazuelas de barro, palas de madera and of course a tortilla press!




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