Get the most out of your mortar and pestle

If there is one kitchen purchase that I put off for far too long, it is buying a proper mortar and pestle. For years I had one of those tiny marble ones that was too small to be practical and I wondered what all the fuss was about. I recently bought a larger, more versatile one and it was a game changer. The first chimichurri I made in it convinced me that I was fool to wait so long. Food and Wine’s Jonah Reider agrees, and has a great article on how to get the most out of your mortar and pestle.

One of the world’s oldest cooking gadgets, the mortar and pestle dates back about 37,000 years. They are virtually indestructible, most are relatively inexpensive, and unlike some cooking tools, they look great on display. As Reider says, you need one that is a decent size, and also one that is made from unpolished stone (he recommends granite). I have an inexpensive, fired clay version with a palm wood pestle that has served me well. Whatever type you get must not be smooth: rough edges are required to get enough friction to break down spices, herbs, garlic, and nuts.

Since pre-ground spices lose their potency much more quickly than whole ones, a mortar and pestle is invaluable for getting more flavor into your cooking. It doesn’t take much time to grind a small amount of whole spice and the effort is worth it. You can create an endless variety of sauces, dips, and dressings in your mortar and pestle. Mine has definitely earned its space on my counter.

Photo of Salsa verde via mortar and pestle from Amateur Gourmet by Adam Roberts

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  • kayanelson  on  January 9, 2020

    I like my mortar and pestle but find it difficult to remove small amounts. For example, if you grind spices, what is the best way to scoop them out of the mortar?

  • Rinshin  on  January 9, 2020

    I have 3 different sized Japanese (small, medium, and large) and one large Mexican ones. I use small and medium ones the most. Toasting and grinding sesame seeds is very common in Japanese cooking. For getting into small indentions, I use small stiff brush that came with something else in the kitchen.

  • MarciK  on  January 9, 2020

    I’ve hesitated buying a proper one (I’m using the small marble one currently) because when I see them in the store, it looks like the stone grinds off. I don’t want that getting in my food. Is there a solution to this?

  • ashallen  on  January 9, 2020

    I’ve had granite ones in a couple of different sizes for many years now and have not noticed any stone grit in the food, even after pounding on some really tough food items – it’s a very strong stone. I’ve sometimes wondered it it’s a possibility with the Mexican ones made from basalt, but I haven’t had a chance to play with one, yet. Someday I’ll get one – I love their really rough surface!

  • Rinshin  on  January 9, 2020

    For the Mexican one, I used rice to cure. It is done when rice powder is no longer darker. I have read you can use garlic and salt to cure as well.

  • dmco6863  on  January 12, 2020

    Thank you for this article. I inherited my mother’s large, heavy granite mortar and pestle and have been a little hesitant to use it. This was just the prod that I needed.

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