So You Want To Be A Waiter

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Food item of the month

The food item for May is not actually food but an essential kitchen item for anyone who even cooks a little – the mortar and pestle.

There are several types of mortar and pestles, ranging from metal and ceramic ones to natural stone ones. Unless you simply like the visual of a shining brass mortar and pestle sitting on your countertop, I recommend staying with a stone model. The name comes from the component parts – the mortar is the bowl and the pestle is the pounder. This is one of the earliest kitchen appliances known to man and it, and its variants, are still a vital part of many food cultures.

There are two types of stone mortar and pestles – the porous and non-porous kind. The discerning cook will have both kinds. The porous kind is usually made from volcanic material while the non-porous type made from marble or granite. You can distinguish the two by feeling the inside of the bowl. The porous type is rough while the non-porous type is smooth as glass. There are advantages to both, which is why it’s not a bad thing to have both. The porous type does a much better job pulverizing and takes less effort, but, due to its rough surface, is much harder to keep clean and eliminate the aroma from the previous batch of whatever you made. The non-porous type is as easy to keep clean as a marble countertop and doesn’t hold an odor if you clean it properly.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article rating mortar and pestles and this solid granite model was the winner:

A granite mortar and pestle

A granite mortar and pestle

You can get it here:

You can get them in various sizes, but I suggest that, as with many things,  bigger is better.

If you have a store or international market that sells Thai food, you might be able to find a set locally. The mortar and pestle is essential for the making of Thai curry pastes.  In Thailand, people use it in place of a food processor or blender, but even if you use a food processor to finish your curry pastes like most of us do, you still need to use a mortar and pestle to grind your herbs and spices. A food processor chops and minces but a mortar and pestle grinds, which extracts the most flavor and texture from things like whole garlic, leafy herbs like basil and chile peppers.

If you make a lot of Mexican food, you might consider a Molcajete y Tejolote, which is usually made from rough volcanic rock like lava or basalt. Here’s what one looks like:

Molcajete y Tejolote

Molcajete y Tejolote

You can get it, as well as several other styles of mortar and pestles here:

Beware of fake or cheap Molcajete y Tejolotes. Sometimes they’re just highly compressed sand or other inferior material. You don’t want your Mole Amarillo to taste like something a mole in your garden would chew through.

This style (and any mortar with a rough textured inside bowl) needs to be seasoned. You can find the instructions at the above vendor’s web page.

The Japanese have a glazed and wood mortar and pestle called a suribachi. This is for real specialists, so I would consider this highly optional. You use this for seeds, cooked rice, soft nuts, etc. The pestle (the pounder) is made of wood as not to damage the delicate bowl. This should definitely not be used for anything requiring much force:

Suribachi from Gourmet Sleuth

Suribachi from Gourmet Sleuth

You can buy it here:
A good morar and pestle is a lifetime and invaluable addition to your kitchen. Use it often and keep it clean and it will reward you with years of service. Plus, they just look plain cool, don’t you think?

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