· Place ingredient(s) in the mortar (bowl) in small quantities.
· While holding the mortar with one hand, use some downward pressure over the food with the pestle (pounder) in your other hand. Hold medium- and small-size pestles under your palm, while your fingers hold the shaft.
· With hard foodstuffs, like peppercorns and even pills, corner a manageable quantity along the inside edge under the pestle, and rock it back and forth with some pressure to break them into pieces.
· Turn the pestle in a circular motion while pressing, constantly edging the ingredients toward the sides to make it easier to trap and grind them.
It won’t take you long to get the hang of using a mortar and pestle.
You’re in control of the grind with a mortar and pestle set. It is your manual food processor, able to grind just about any type of food that will fit in the bottom of the mortar. And because of the minimal friction, aromas don’t burn off in the grinding, like they may with a food processor or electric grinder.
The slower release and combination of flavors of pounded ingredients, such as when making herb rubs or pesto, provides better flavor and color than a food processor, making a mortar and pestle a staple tool for any true food enthusiast.
– The Japanese call it a suribachi (also a volcanic bowl at Iwo Jima) and suricogi (wood pestle).
– The Mexicans call it a molcajete (seasoning bowl) and tejolote (from stone doll) for the pestle. It seems they originated the design, over 5,000 years ago, while the mortar and pestle appeared in Europe a mere 500 or so years ago.
How to Choose a Mortar & Pestle
Whether it’s to grind some peppercorns or your coffee beans, or avocados for guacamole, a mortar and pestle set can be a handy non-electric kitchen tool.
– Choose the least absorbent materials when you need purity in what you crush.
– Choose the most absorbent when you want the flavor to carry on to the next batch that you grind.
– Choose the size based on the size and quantity of the ingredients. A larger pestle can be easier to use with small ingredients.
– Choose the shape that you find comfortable to hold.
· Wood and Bamboo are best when used with the same flavor food, since they easily absorb flavors, and impart those flavors to whatever else you grind next. Seasoning the interior with mineral oil will keep some flavors from being absorbed and will lengthen the mortar’s useful life. Recommended for dry ingredients only. Brush clean. Wipe with mineral oil.
· Marble is very hard and a favorite for all around use. It has medium resistance to the absorption of odors and moisture, depending, to a great extent, on the density (or pore size) of the stone used to fashion it. Wash by hand. Grind rice to help remove stains.
· Porcelain is highly resistant to absorption and staining and it does well with foods that contain moisture. Its interior is not enameled, so it won’t chip and better grips ingredients. The smallest sizes are also especially popular for crushing pills. Can easily be cleaned by hand and is dishwasher safe.
· Vitrified Ceramic is similar to porcelain, fired to a temperature where all the molecules in the clay completely fuse together to form a fully sealed non-porous solid, highly resistant to absorption and staining. The finish is usually coarse for better grip and to aid grinding. Can be easily cleaned by hand and is dishwasher safe.
· Stoneware (ceramic) mortars and pestles are popular for the variety of colors and shapes that the material makes possible. Ridges usually line the inside bottom for better grip. Medium to high resistance to absorption and staining. Wash well and dry thoroughly; a stiff nylon-bristle brush helps clean between the ridges. Most are dishwasher safe.
· Stainless Steel is usually lightweight, can be used with liquid and solid ingredients, and is not absorbent. Stain resistance depends on the quality of the stainless steel. Easy to keep clean by hand, though not usually dishwasher safe.
· Alloy metals like Pewtarex are usually cast and offer excellent resistance to absorption and staining, depending on the density and evenness of the inside surface. Easy to clean. Hand washing recommended.
· Iron has great heft that makes it especially efficient in grinding harder ingredients. Wash by hand and dry thoroughly. Keep it lightly oiled; use food grade mineral oil (from your pharmacy or supermarket), which is tasteless, odorless, and doesn’t become rancid. With proper care, a cast iron set will last a long, long time.
· Brass is very hard, and can withstand a lot of pressure. It should be limited to hard ingredients, and liquids that are not highly acidic, as brass, like copper, reacts with such foods. Brass doesn’t require special care other than keeping it clean and dry. Wash by hand.
· Lava Stone, in the form of the molcajete, works best for coarse grinding, and is great for all types of ingredients, especially in preparing large quantities. The stone needs to be seasoned before first use, to stabilize its surface. Grind rice to help clean it.
· Granite, like lava, will also absorb to some degree, based on the density of the stone used to fashion it, and it may also, as a result, trap food in its pores so it may need seasoning as well. Usually quite hard, and good for larger and harder ingredients. Wash by hand. Grind rice to help remove stains.
How to Season the Lava Stone Molcajete
· Before first use, be sure to season the molcajete, to seal the rough and porous bowl surface.
· First clean off loose surface materials using a stiff brush under running water. Let it dry completely.
· Grind some uncooked rice into the bowl, clean the powder off, and repeat the process until the powdered rice comes out white.
· To clean after use, just brush things off, or you can wash with a brush and water only (to prevent absorption of soaps). Allow to completely dry before using.