There are so many kitchen tools and gadgets being invented to make things easier. Most of them are used to speed up the cooking process. Some of them are for the lazy cook, which is not necessarily a bad thing, because it gets more people into the kitchen using these electrical appliances and at the same time becoming more interested in cooking, mixing and baking.
Someone will see a cute, nifty little kitchen appliance and say, “Wow, I want to try that out.” Cooking is no longer just for women. Guys even have fun making a stylish salad. I have to say I am glad I am cooking in this day in age because I don’t know what it would be like without things like food processors and blenders.
A mortar and pestle is a great kitchen tool, and something that has been around for a long time and yet it is used frequently. You can get them in all different shapes and sizes. The Mortar and pestle can be traced as far back as 1550 BC to early Egyptian times. At this time it was used for medical purposes more than for any sorts of culinary use.
Chefs design them signed and of course the upcoming foodie will want to buy a Jamie Oliver mortar and pestle. Industrial kitchens usually favor granite mortar and pestles because this really works well with large quantities. They often describe them as one of the most essential tools in the kichen. It is possible to make pastes, grind spices, herbs and sauces that you would make in the blender or food processor, but to me it is never quite the same. Obviously those kitchen appliances come to good use as well.
I prefer the granite variety because it is easier to work with than something that is smoother. Just add a little rock salt if you are struggling with something tough like rosemary and it will be easy to get to work.
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You will start to smell the flavors come through; especially when you need to crush a whole lot of seeds and spices for curries and this is something you don’t get with a blender.
Different types of materials are used depending on the cuisine you specializing in. If you go to Mexico you will find quite a few wooden mortar and pestles. Something to watch out for is the quality. Stainless steel mortar and pestles sometimes rust so this is something to take into consideration.
At the end of the day, this would be like comparing the microwave to the stove. You can’t see what is going on. It just seems wrong doing something in the microwave because that is just not cooking. Blenders and food processors are fantastic for many wonderful things. But some things can never change.
Take a piece of lemongrass and bash it around with the pestle to release the oils. If you want to make crushed chickpeas, but some of it you want chunky and some like a smooth paste you need to keep an eye on it all the time.
Mortar and pestles are great for getting someone interested in cooking when they know nothing about the subject. You would put one in front of them and they would probably give you a blank look, but just give them something to grind up and they will start to enjoy it. It’s good to joke around. This way they will know cooking is not a chore, but it’s actually a whole lot of fun.
A few things to make use of your mortar and pestle
- Flavored salts, such as rosemary chilli or lemon
- Flavored oils this could include basil, chilli or paprika
- Pesto such as basil, olive or sundried tomato
- Spices, which you could grind like a 5-spice mix, grinding different whole spices
- Dry fry a couple of assorted nuts and have some spices ready crushed, which you can mix over
There is a ton more you can do with this - just experiment!
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There is nothing special in making herb flavored salts and sugars. The secret is in the end result and how it all comes together.
Herby salts makes a fantastic Christmas gift. It definitely beats a pair of the latest socks or soap on the rope. Put it in a nice, small jar with a label and it will be a winner. One Christmas I decided to make a bunch of homemade culinary gifts and I could see the family were a lot happier than usual!
Sometimes it's easier crushing the herbs up with Maldon salt or rock salt, especially with a herb like rosemary, which is not always that easy to pulverize. You may want to chop it fine before you start pounding with your pestle and mortar.
Lavender flowers, in my opinion are one of the most beautiful and easiest herbs to grow. You can make a great lavender sugar that works well with a lot of things. Use the same quantities as mint sugar and crush it really well.
Use it on a slice of pineapple with mascarpone or leave bigger chunks of lavender and mix it in with the sugar and roll it into a pastry case.
Lavender Tea also has a special taste. It's easy to make, good for you and served with a little honey if you are not interested in lavender sugar is a real treat.
This is fantastic over a simple fruit salad. You can also impress your guests and use it as a garnish, Sprinkle it around the plate. Don’t overdo it though. I usually use castor sugar, also called powdered sugar and use fresh mint.
It’s also good over your favorite dessert or you could add some into a chocolate mousse instead of using your normal sugar. I love mint sugar over vanilla ice-cream or sorbet. This is about transforming something ordinary into something extra-ordinary.
This is best left to infuse for a couple of days. Don’t waste your empty vanilla pods. Just throw them in the sugar, shake them around and leave it for a week or two.
Just about any herb would do here. They work well over potato wedges, roast potatoes or chips, depending how you want to cook them. If you want to make your wedges spicy then add a couple of spices like paprika, chilli powder and turmeric and pound up some coriander, mix with a little salt and rub over the wedges with some olive oil. They never disappoint.
Chili Salt is another popular flavored salt to try, but it’s best to dry them out in the oven first otherwise they will be too wet. You can have the option of leaving the seeds in if you want a spicier salt or taking them out for more of a milder effect.
If you have never tried to bake a whole fish in rock salt it’s always something to try. The salt peels away once it’s cooked and the moisture remains.
Something different to try with this technique is to chop a couple of different herbs that will work well like dill or fennel and add it to the salt that you pack on to the fish. It will just add a little more flavor. Give it a bash!