If you know a few things about me, you know that I love having control over anything that I prepare in the kitchen. Even though I appreciate new technology, I love old fashioned stuff! Because if you know how to use a mortar and pestle, you’ll never reach for machines. I like to use the products that my mother, my grandmother, and even my great grandmother used.
Mortar and pestle are two examples of the ancient products that give me control over the ingredients the way I like. Food processors and grinders are efficient, but they’re just not the same. Mortars and pestles are so aesthetically pleasing that I don’t store them in kitchen cabinets but line them in a visible place. This way, I turn them into authentic ornaments for my kitchen.
It surely changes the mood! Moreover, they work great while pulling a great look. I crush nuts, chiles, ginger, and many more ingredients. I prepare teas whenever a family member or friend gets cold by grinding some herbs with them. Herbs leave their essential oils while ground this way and the hidden flavors come out.
However, mortar and pestle are not only used for edible stuff. For example, I make my natural face masks with them. They are so versatile! You can find many mortar and pestle recipes online for any occasion. Let’s learn how to use a mortar and pestle. I hope you find the chance to experience this special method. I highly recommend you to do so!
What Is Mortar and Pestle?
They are kitchen products that have been used since the ancient times for grinding and crushing substances or ingredients into powder or paste. The oldest ones are going back to 35000 BC. They are found in Southwest Asia. It feels so magical to use a tool like this.
A mortar is basically a bowl that looks distinctive. It can be made out of hard stone, wood, ceramic, or metal. On the other hand, a pestle is a club-shaped object. Paired, they are used in kitchens, pharmacies, and laboratories. We will mention the kitchen part in this article.
A good mortar should be around six inches in diameter and three inches deep. And be careful not to choose a pestle that the ingredients would stick into. Ease of cleaning is as important as ease of using. Since wood is hard to take care of, you can choose another type if this is your first time. You can choose stone ones in that case.
How to Use Pestle and Mortar?
I’ll give you step by step instructions for using pestle and mortar.
Place Your Ingredients in the Mortar
Measure out how much you need to grind for the specific recipe and place that amount in the mortar. Do not fill more than one-third of the mortar with raw ingredients. It’ll be difficult to grind evenly. If the recipe tells you to grind too much of something, just grind it in batches.
Process the Ingredients With the Pestle
Take the pestle with one hand and hold the mortar with another. Press the pestle over the ingredients and twist it against them. Make sure to grind evenly. Mix it with the pestle once in a while to spread the ingredients in the mortar and then continue to grind. Do it until the ingredients reach the fineness you want.
You can use your freshly ground ingredients right away but if there are leftovers, you can always store them in a glass spice jar. Do not forget to close the lid very tightly.
Also Read: Best Food Mill for Your Kitchen
Sauce, baked good, and some other dish recipes call for use of this technique with most of the spices. You can grind the spices to a fine, medium, and coarse consistency. For this technique, you need to press the pestle down on the ingredients and roll it around. The ingredients will grind while you are applying firm pressure on them.
Some ingredients can be stubborn. They may resist grinding. In this case, use the pounding technique. You need to use gentle but firm pounding. This technique is also called ‘bashing’. Before using this technique, grind your ingredients. This will make the pounding process easier. After grinding, bash the ingredients by short but sharp motions. Then you can grind the ingredients again if you think it is needed.
If you see the word ‘crushed’ for spices in the recipe, you should use this technique. You need to keep the spices mostly intact rather than pulverizing them. This technique is mostly used for garlics. After placing the ingredients in the mortar, roll the pestle across. They’ll be crushed rather than finely ground.
Cleaning and Taking Care of Your Mortar and Pestle
Cleaning is an important step with every product because it can either cause your product to last longer or last shorter. So, we should be careful while cleaning and taking care of the things we have. In this case, the cleaning and taking care process can differ because there are different types of mortars and pestles. You need to follow the specific techniques proper to the ones you own.
Check the instructions of the mortar and pestle you got. If they are dishwasher-safe, you can just toss it in the dishwasher and go take a rest. If you have a wooden set that is not dishwasher safe at all, you should deep clean it with warm water because wood may absorb the smell of the spices.
Soap is not recommended because the wood may absorb it too and you wouldn’t want the soap to touch something you’ll eat later. After washing it, you should immediately dry it before storing it. Wood mortars and pestles are sturdy, but they can easily be ruined. You need to take good care of them. My mother has had a wooden mortar and pestle for almost 30 years, and it still looks brand new!
How to Choose a Mortar and Pestle?
Like I mentioned two or three times before, there are different types of mortar and pestles out there. Some are pretty good and last long, but some are just mistakes you’ll regret wasting money on. So, what are the things you should look for before buying one of these?
Mortars and pestles are usually small but there are huge ones too. If you will only use one for smaller tasks, you should get a smaller one usually in 6 to 8 diameters. These ‘smaller tasks’ can be crushing garlic or grinding some fresh spices for soup.
If you think buying a large mortar and pestle will make your job in the kitchen easier, think again. These can be really heavy and take up a lot of space, not to mention how expensive they come. If you can afford the space, money and energy, get one.
There are metal ones, ceramic ones, granite ones, marble ones, wood ones, and more. Usually, the granite or the marble ones are recommended. Although I like wooden ones more, it easily picks up smell or stain. So, it is hard to use. But you need to follow some instructions with other ones too.
For example, ‘how to safely use a granite mortar and pestle’? For one of those, you should use the aforementioned rice grinding method to clean it after you grind any food in it. Additionally, beware of the weight and don’t drop it, especially on your foot.
You may also wonder ‘how to use a marble mortar and pestle’. The care for this kind of kitchen tool is similar to using a granite one. Plus you should not grind very hard materials as the marble may end up chipping. This is also a weighty and expensive option.
What You Should Do After Buying One?
You need to deeply clean your mortar and pestles before usage before you have to get rid of the stone dust that is left from the manufacturing process. I will give you step by step instructions:
- Wash it with water and then let it dry. Do not use any detergent. It harms the product.
- Put some white rice in the mortar and start to grind. Grind several times until the rice grinds white.
- Mash 4 cloves of garlic in the mortar. Muddle them together.
- Grind 1 teaspoon of salt, 2 teaspoons of pepper and 1 teaspoon of cumin with the garlic. Continue until they blend together and then empty the mortar.
- Wash the mortar and pestle with water and let it dry again. Voila! It is ready to use. You can repeat this process from time to time to make the product last longer.
How to Use a Mortar and Pestle to Make Pesto?
You wouldn’t turn away from me without bagging a recipe, would you? Let’s make some pesto! For this, you’ll be needing:
- Sea salt as needed
- 3 ounces of basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 2 medium cloves garlic
- 3\4-ounce Pecorino Fiore Sardo (or Pecorino Ramano)
- 3\4-ounces of grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 3\4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Grind the garlic and sea salt together to a paste. Add the pine nuts while continuing to crush the ingredients. Then add basil leaves slowly. Crush and pound them to fine bits. Add cheeses (you can use different alternatives) and drizzle the olive oil.
Work it into the pesto until you reach a smooth sauce form. If you think it needs more, add more oil. And you are good to go! You can add it to the pasta right away or you can store it in a jar and refrigerate it overnight.
It always makes me happy to use old fashione kitchen tools. If you did not use them before, I hope you decide to use them and enjoy them as much as I do since now you know how to use a mortar and a pestle! Let me know if you used one before and if you have special mortar and pestle recipes. I am so excited to try them out!