Do you know how to use a mortar and pestle? Think about it. Do you really know how to use a mortar and pestle properly?
Here’s a quick way to tell: do the ingredients fly all over your countertop instead of remaining inside the mortar? Are the spices left in uneven pieces instead of becoming a fine powder?
If you answered yes to either of these then it's time you learned how to use a mortar and pestle the right way.
What is a mortar and pestle?
Used since antiquity, a mortar is a bowl of some sorts and a pestle is a cylinder-type tool used to smash ingredients. Together they can finely grind spices, nuts and other ingredients to create pastes and sauces.
Mortar and pestles come in different sizes and are made from a variety of materials including stone, stainless steel and wood, depending on the desired use.
For instance, Mexico’s stone molcajete and the South American batan are wonderfully efficient at grinding anything from seeds and dried chilies to spices and even fresh ingredients for sauces like guacamole.
In Puerto Rico, a wooden mortar and pestle known as pilón are used to smash fried plantains for a dish called mofongo (a tradition African slaves brought from their homeland).
Of course, in Italy the mortaio e pestello are the traditional way to make the famous Genovese pesto. If you’re keen to try out making your own pesto, classic basil or something more adventurous, here’s all the info you need.
How to use a mortar and pestle
Using a mortar and pestle is really all about the wrist movement. Start off too fast and everything will end up flying all over the place, go too slow and it’ll take you forever to grind.
First, determine the texture of the item you want to grind. Saffron and pine nuts, for instance, are soft compared to peppercorns and fenugreek seeds.
For soft items it will suffice to gently press down with the pestle then start working in a circular motion to slowly change the texture of the food.
Harder foods like peppercorns require cracking before they can be ground. Use the pestle to press the ingredients on the side of the bowl to break it open. Then use a circular motion to finely grind the ingredients until the desired fineness.
Watch: how to use a mortar and pestle
Need a visual? Take a look at this wonderful instructional video from The Kitchy Kitchen. Host Claire Thomas offers her effective technique for using a mortar and pestle.
A classic of Spanish cuisine, eaten throughout Andalusia in particular, the chilled tomato soup gazpacho is a traditional dish perfect for sunny summer afternoons. Find out all about how to make it, using your mortar and pestello of course, as well as the difference between gazpacho and its cousin salmorejo.
If you’re someone who doesn’t feel comfortable in the kitchen without plenty of equipment or handy gadgets around you, check out our article on low-cost kitchen tools, such as the angurella for slicing watermelon. It’s also important to know when your kitchen equipment needs to be replaced, as well as how to lengthen its lifespan. If you’ve ever wanted to know what top chefs use in professional kitchens to streamline their processes, these five tools will provide you with a glimpse behind the scenes.