An Underused Kitchen Tool.
I have a new tool in my kitchen. A tool for mashing and grinding, or as Jamie Oliver calls it bashing and muddling. I’m learning to use a mortar and pestle. This ancient kitchen tool will allow me to create wonderful, healthy foods and bring out the essential oils, and flavor essences of my herbs and spices, in a natural way. I like that idea.
Discover More About Using a Mortar and Pestle Here
I also consider it an effective tool to use when the power goes out. Just as I have a hand grinder for wheat, I now have a hand food processor.
A small glass or porcelain set will be good to grind tablets and medications. Used as a kitchen tool I can make sauces and mix spices with it. I purchased two different kinds; a small porcelain set with three bowls and pestles of different sizes, PLUS a large, heavy, granite set with a three cup capacity mortar. This should let me create anything I want!
Just so you know – the word mortar comes from the Latin word mortarium, which means “receptacle for pounding” and pestle comes from the Latin word pestillum, meaning “pounder”
How to Choose a Great Mortar and Pestle
Not all mortars and pestles are created equal. While some are amazing at what they do and can last for a lifetime, with proper care, others will just make you wish you never shelled the money.
Size. A general purpose mortar should be large (6 to 8 inches in diameter). If you want one for smaller tasks, such as just crushing garlic, you can get a smaller one.
Texture & Materials. A great mortar and pestle should be made of rough, matte materials but not too rough as you don't want it to be too porous when making oily pastes, such as Italian pesto or chili oil.
Materials. Steer clear of mortars that are too smooth such as porcelain or ceramic. The best mortars and pestles are made of heavy duty granite or marble. Wood is a great option too but it will retain smells and aroma, so it is best used for specific tasks only.
Shape. Look for mortars with a deep, round shape. You need to find a product that keeps ingredients in place rather than allowing them to jump all around the kitchen floor. Also, the base should be wider, as if it is too round it will not contain slippery ingredients as well.
Here's a side-by-side comparison of the most popular mortars and pestles right now. However, don't take Chef Daniel's review as gospel since the jury is still out on what you should be looking in a general purpose mortar and pestle.
Before You Use Your New Mortar and Pestle the First Time
Just like a new dutch oven, you need to clean and season your new mortar and pestle. This process will clean out the stone dust that is inherently left during the manufacturing process.
- Wash it in clean water, without detergent and let it air dry. In fact, you should never wash it with soap unless you want your fantastic creations tainted with it. You should always begin using it when it’s dry, a wet mortar might gum up your dry ingredients.
- Roughly grind a small handful of white rice. Discard and repeat until the rice grinds white. It will take several grinds. If you have a white mortar and pestle, plan on grinding three times. This is somewhat cumbersome in the small mortars but is great practice and you should be a grinding pro by the time you’re done. If your mortar has a tendency to slip on the counter while you are learning, put a non-skid shelf liner under it.
- Next, add 4 cloves of garlic, then mash and muddle it together.
- Add 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper to the garlic. Grind it all together, enjoy the smells, and discard.
- Wash it again in clean water, without soap, and air dry.
In their book, Alchemy of the Mortar & Pestle, D & P Gramp suggest this rule of thumb when adding ingredients to a recipe:
- Driest ingredients first (dried herbs and spices, flour, etc.)
- Moist ones next (garlic, onion, brown sugar, fresh herbs, etc.)
- Oily ones next (anchovy, nuts, oils, cheese, butter, etc)
- Wet ones next (lemon juice, stock, vinegar, honey, soy, etc)
- Taste and add salt if needed
What Can You Make in a Mortar and Pestle?
Most everything! Many cultures have sued this simple tool for thousands of years.
- Do you have a simple sauce to create? Use your mortar and pestle.
- When you cook curries, spice mixes, pastes, and marinades; all these mix well by hand in a mortar and pestle.
- Herbal preparations work great too – mix teas, make poultices, lotions, and potions.
First Recipes to Get You Started
"There is no question we love owning our mortar and pestle, but…what…exactly…do we do with it now? The simple answer to this question, is either everything or nothing. We can enjoy looking at it or we try our hand at magic." – D & P Gramp
Here are some of the first things I’m going to make with my mortar and pestle. These will be great practice for all the creations ahead.
Berry Sauce – Any soft, seasonal berry can be crushed in a mortar. A few drops of balsamic vinegar will enhance their flavor and they can sit steeping for several hours. Use over ice cream or on pancakes. Spoon over desserts or put in tonic water for a cool treat.
Herb Salts – This couldn’t be easier and will help you get in your grinding practice. Use sea or flaked salt and dried herbs if you want to be able to store it for an extended time. If you will use it within a few days, use fresh or a combination of fresh and dried herbs.
Try thyme, marjoram, basil, parsley, celery, oregano, garlic, fennel, pepper, lemon verbena, cumin, coriander. Pick the recipes you like and experiment with small batches until you get several keepers. Most of all, be sure and write it down this wonderful recipe so you can create it again!
Insomnia Salve – Apply to both temples 1 hour prior to sleep. Used to induce relaxation and sleep, this may also induce vivid dreams!
- Grind together 1 tablespoon each of dried herbs- rosemary, lavender, mint, calendula and sage
- Add 1 tablespoon olive oil
- When thoroughly ground and mixed, add 2 or more tablespoons of softened beeswax
- Place in a small wide mouth jar to use
Jamie Oliver has an informative video about learning to use a mortar and pestle. He describes his bashing and muddling technique and gives you three easy recipes (which I’m definitely going to try.) He makes it look really easy, but I can tell you, grinding rice into flour takes practice!
The book Alchemy of the Mortar and Pestle by D & P Gramp is chock full of recipes and I’m glad I purchased it. Not only do they give some background on this wonderful tool, their recipes are easy to follow and really inspired me to try some creations of my own.
What will you make in your new mortar and pestle?
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