One of my favorite and most recent additions to the team is one I should have picked up a long time ago. A close friend handed me a boxed gift telling me it was something he knew I would use and to his knowledge I didn't already own. He was so right. Inside the heavy package was a mortar and pestle or more specifically, a molcajete. An indispensable object in the Mexican kitchen, this original food processor is hewn from lava rock. It has pores in its bowl which are very effective at quickly grinding almost anything into a range of textures from a coarse salsa to a smooth puree. I have used it for everything from Guacamole to spice rubs made from whole seed spice which, when toasted quickly in a toaster oven or saute pan and then ground, explode in flavor that jarred pre-ground spices just can't match. Best of all it doesn't have to be plugged in, and it is practically impossible to break. (Actually, I think it is impossible to break.)
This was one of my favorite recent creations that this appliance played a part in:
Grilled Lamb loins with Middle Eastern Spice Rub
-3 cloves garlic peeled
-¼ cup loose fresh thyme leaves
-2 Tbsp whole cumin seed ~ toasted
-2 Tbsp whole fennel seed ~ toasted
-2 tsp coarse sea salt
Put all above into the molcajete and grind into a coarse paste.
-¼ cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
-3 Tbsp of Chili/Garlic paste (Hoy Fong)
Rub this mixture all over the lamb loins and allow to marinate for at least an hour but ideally overnight. Grill the loins over a hot fire 2 – 3 minutes per side for medium rare.
Toasting and grinding the spices this way releases flavors with surprising potency. The molcajete also gives you more control over how much you process something. If you've ever hit the pulse button on the food processor or blender one too many times you can appreciate this.
One benefit I had not considered, but recently discovered, was that in a power outage, this thing still works. Last weekends storm took out the electricity, but since the stovetop is gas, I was able to use it and anything else that was not dependent on PSE&G. We dined by candlelight and soothed our concerns over the storm with a lovely Puligny-Montrachet from Pierre Yves Colin-Morey. I was able to cook a chicken in a covered skillet on the gas burner. I raised my glass to three things that made my night and will never become obsolete in my kitchen... cast iron skillets, my molcajete and white burgundy.