There are a lot of pots and pans that anyone can choose from, but the comal pan is an absolute standout for me. Trust me, I’ve cooked in hundreds of pans in a decade as a pro chef.
So what is a comal exactly?
In This Article
What Is a Comal Pan?
A comal is a circular, flat skillet usually made of cast iron. Its surface is flat and smooth.
A comal can also be made of carbon steel or clay. Larger versions exist that can live on your stovetop. Essentially it’s a griddle or a plancha, depending on where you are in the world.
It is a pan commonly found in the households of Mexico and throughout Latin America. The comal pan can be used for making homemade tortillas and arepas. It can sear the carne asada for said tortillas too.
Simply put, a comal pan is incredibly diverse.
Where Does The Comal Come From?
The word comal is rooted in the Aztec word “comalli.” This connection to the Aztec word suggests the possibility of the comal being in existence since the Aztec presence in Mesoamerica.
In my opinion, a pan that’s stood up to technological advances since the 15th century is an absolute keeper.
The comal is a mainstay for cooking tortillas and has a long existence in Mexican cuisine. Word of the comal spread from Mexico to Central America and parts of South America.
It’s an integral tool to the food culture and homes of Mexico. Many comals are considered a prized family heirlooms and will certainly last and be passed through generations.
What Makes a Comal Special
Originally, these pans were made of clay.
Clay comals were set atop open fires and were admired for their slow heat distribution and high heat retention. A cast iron comal carries the same characteristics but is used on a stovetop instead.
A well-seasoned comal will impart a depth of flavor.
Their high heat retention allows you to impart a good deal of char to ingredients on your stovetop. This technique will enable you to replicate authentic Latin American recipes for deeply charred chilis, peppers, and well-toasted spices.
How to Use The Mexican Comal
Since the comal is typically a solid piece of metal, it can be used in several ways.
For example, you can harken back to Aztec Mesoamerican days and place your Comal directly over a fire. The heat retention would be ideal for searing steaks over an open fire while containing flare-ups. Along with providing a flat surface to cook any vegetable or tortillas while providing an extra layer of smokey depth from the fire.
Though the easier way to comal is on your stovetop. Place the comal on low-medium heat and exercise some patience as it gets hot.
The evenly hot comal will be ideal for:
Toasting Spices & Chillies
If toasting dried chilis, a quick 2-3 minutes per side will toast the skin and soften them. This will impart flavor. Then soak the toasted chilis in hot water. Once softened thoroughly, they can be blended into salsa.
The comal can also be used to char the skins of fresh peppers.
Getting a deep char will take about 5 minutes per side. Once all sides of the pepper are thoroughly charred, transfer to a vessel you can place a lid on or wrap with plastic film. Steam the peppers and peel the skin.
The peppers will then be ready for any salsa recipe.
For me, the perfect salsa has a blend of deeply toasted aromatic spices, a few cloves of charred garlic, charred onion, and either toasted dried chiles or peppers.
Whether you are preparing a classic carne asada for your freshly made tortillas or wanting to sear that grass-fed NY strip in your fridge, the comal is undoubtedly capable of getting hot enough to do it all.
Cooking (or Reheating) Tortillas
Place a pressed ball of masa on the comal for 30 seconds (or so), then flip for another 30 seconds. You may need to flip once more to avoid excessive charring.
Your fresh tortillas will signal they are ready once they have puffed.
If you’re reheating store-bought corn tortillas, my tip is to quickly dunk them in water and place them directly onto the comal. The quick splash of water will provide some steam to bring the otherwise dry tortilla to life.
A comal is the ideal pan for quickly whipping up some cheesy quesadillas. Sometimes less is so much more.
Seasoning your Comal
To season you’re comal, you should use a technique identical to seasoning any other cast iron pan.
- Wash your comal with soap and water. Then dry well.
- Rub a small amount of oil evenly on your comal. Try to use an appropriate oil with a high smoke point. Canola or vegetable oil works well.
- Place into a 375 F oven for about 30 minutes. The oven will allow for an even heat distribution on the whole pan.
- Remove from the oven and wipe any excess oil. Return to the oven for another 30 minutes.
- Place on your stovetop to cool.
If you try to season your comal stove top, you’ll likely develop non-stick properties unevenly.
There is also a school of thought that suggests using bacon for seasoning your pan. However, it may not be the best way to season your cast iron initially.
Comals and all cast iron pans do need to be reseasoned from time to time. The best way to reseason without even knowing is to just cook some bacon every now and again.
The bacon method is simple and easy as long as you maintain an adequately cleaned cast iron. Simply cook your bacon stove top. The excess fat that renders out is typically enough to coat the entire pan evenly. The combination of fat and the time it takes to cook crispy bacon generally is enough to reason your pan. Just safely toss the oil and wipe clean.
What is the comal used for?
The comal is a mainstay stove top cast iron skillet. Perfect for reheating tortillas, cooking quesadillas, charing vegetables & meat, and your daily egg cookery.
Is a comal the same as a cast iron skillet?
Technically yes, they are both pans made of cast iron. Though the comal is thinner and does not have the same tall sides as a regular cast iron skillet. They will both have the same high heat retention, though the comal will have a shorter retention duration since it is less dense than a cast iron skillet.