mortar and pestle
***It is better to ask forgiveness than beg permission.***
[ July 22, 2001: Message edited by: foodnfoto ]
LOL, what an appropriate name for this topic!
Here's an excerpt from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen: Capturing the Vibrant Flavors of a World-Class Cuisine:
What's Best? Mortar versus Blender versus Food Processor
Those chiseled-out bowls of basalt (lava rock) called molcajetes in Mexico -- the ones that sit on counters in taquerías, home kitchens, even fancy eateries -- are so tangled up in Mexican culinary history that it's nearly impossible to think there could be a replacement. But, in all honesty, for some jobs there is.
If you're talking about a chunky salsa made from roasted jalapeños, garlic and tomatoes, what you'll get from the mortar -- juicy, elegantly textured, clear in flavor -- is much better than the pulp you'll get from a blender or food processor that you've turned on and just let run. However, carefully pulsing a machine with sharp blades can yield a decent salsa.
Very few cooks these days (in Mexico or beyond) use a mortar (or its larger cousin, the metate) to make dried chile sauce; the chile skins are hard to grind. A food processor works remarkably well for such a sauce, as does a blender, though the latter usually requires the addition of a little extra liquid and repeated stopping to scrape down the blender jar. For sauces thickened with nuts and seeds (like moles and pipianes), the blender works far better than the food processor because its blades go faster and can pulverize even the smallest seeds.
I would be remiss if I didn't say that those who've been raised on mole de la abuelita (grandma's mole) say that when she grinds everything by hand the flavors and textures are better. This makes perfect sense: in the mortar or on the metate, you're crushing ingredients, hence extracting more flavor, rather than finely chopping them as you do in a blender.
Bottom line: I have a molar and I use it for grinding spices and for certain salsas (I've noted this in the recipes). The extra muscle power I expend is easily made up for by my enjoyment of the aromas and texture. In my recipes, I call for a mortar, blender and food processor; whichever I list first is my preference.
Choosing, Seasoning and Using a Mexican Mortar
It's not likely you'll find a good, heavy molcajete made of the densest basalt (lava rock) for sale in the United States, simply because the best ones weigh and cost a lot, and there's not a huge call for them here. Lightweight "tourist" models look nice on the shelf but are so rough and porous that you'll forever be grinding grit into your food. In Mexico, I suggest you search through the markets for a stall that primarily sells mortars and metates (the sloped flat grinding stones). Choose a heavy, compact, smooth-textured mortar -- the surface should look a little like unpolished granite -- that will hold three to four cups. I am partial to the ones with a decorative pig or ram's head carved on the side.
To season your molcajete, grind a handful of wet, raw rice in it once a day for several days, until you've smoothed out the roughest edges in the bowl and the rice no longer looks dirty. When grinding, hold the metlapil (the pestle) so that your fingers are parallel to its length (not wrapped around it), with the smallest end toward your palm. Keep your wrist rather loose to allow you to rotate the pestle easily around the bowl while exerting an even pressure from your palm.
When making salsa in the mortar, the idea is to work the ingredients together a little at a time. Start with the hardest (or most difficult to grind) items, then, work in the softer, juicier stuff.
[ July 23, 2001: Message edited by: pooh ]
STONE-AGE BLENDER, EVERY HOME SHOULD HAVE ONE!
This is an old thread, but it has lots of good information. I recently got a Molcajete for my birthday, and wanted to comment on it here . I had been wanting one of these for a long time, mainly for display. However, now that I have it prepped, I'll probably put it to use fairly often, because I really like the way it pulverizes foods and spices to render out all their natural flavors and/or oils.
It's made from dark volcanic rock (basalt). It measures 7.5" outside diameter, by 4.25" tall. It's extremely heavy for the size of it. The combined weight of the mortor and pestle is 7.5 pounds.
In preparing the device for use, I orginally followed the instructions that came with it. Grinding a generous handfull of raw rice, moistened with water, to a fine meal consistency. Repeat until there is no more "shedding" of grit and the rice meal appears to be clean. Although it was probably the best method available to the peasants that developed it, this is a very laborious process. Hours of labor yielded sore muscles, but not much progress inside the bowl. So I went "high tech".
I raided HubbyDearest's work bench for some medium grade sandpaper. Eureka! With another hour's worth of work I had accomplished what I'd not been able to do in several days using the primitive method. It's not traditional, but so what? My goal was to be able to use the molcajete without getting unpleasant grit in my food.
Once I had the interior of the bowl and the pestle shed-free, I rinsed it with plain water, lightly scrubbing with a medium stiffness brush. Then I seasoned it by crushing 3 cloves of fresh garlic, some cumin seeds and salt together into a paste, and rubbing it all around the inside of the bowl, and let it stand for about 30 minutes. Discarded that, rinsed & brushed again. While the bowl was still damp I sprinkled a generous amount of salt onto the wet surface and let it stand for about an hour. Then that was also rinsed and brushed out. Salt is naturally anti-microbial. A previous post mentioned dousing it with bleach "just in case". Never use bleach, soap or other cleaners unless you want that taste in your food! You can, rub a cut lemon around the inside of the bowl before adding the salt but understand this also may also add flavor to your food. The rock is porous, and will absorb and hold onto the flavors of whatever is put into it. It then releases these flavors into the next food that is prepared with it, building subtle layers of flavors over time.
The first recipe I prepared was guacamole. I crushed the 3 cloves fresh garlic with a little salt, crushed in 1/2 a medium red onion that had been coarse-chopped, then crushed in one peeled medium tomato and a few pickled jalapeno pepper slices. Once this was pulverized to a paste, I added it to 4 mashed avocados in a separate bowl. Tasted for salt...it was wonderful. You can also grind in some fresh cilantro, but we happen not to like it.
Crushing the aromatic ingredients releases more flavors and oils than simply processing them in a blender or food processor, so when adapting recipes to this method, go easy at first. You may find you'll need to cut back on some things. It's quite fortunate that we all enjoy garlic at our house, because it came out very strong!
Maintenance is very simple. The best time to clean the molcajete is as soon as possible after use. Rinse with plain water, brushing with medium stiffness brush. While still damp, rub inside the bowl with salt, let stand for a while (15-30 minutes is good), rinse again and let air dry. Never, ever put it in the dishwasher. Over time, it should develop a nice patina.
Finally, I also sanded the feet to a smoother finish, to help keep them from scratching my countertop and table, and will still use something underneath to further protect my surfaces.
Edited by amazingrace - 8/9/10 at 8:55am