Why use a mortar and pestle

Why use a mortar and pestle? Well, who doesn’t like to just pound away! Whether one’s punching a bag or flattening out a veal cutlet, dishing out a pounding is what makes it all the more enjoyable. There is no better place outside the kitchen in which pounding is not only fantastic exercise and sensual, but also satisfies our inner spirits and child. Remember the first time you heard your mom pounding chicken in the kitchen? You were probably like “what the heck is that?!” and then hid in the closet. After time, that curious fear morphed into “awesome, mom is pounding away in the kitchen. Mom, can I bang on the chicken, pretty please?”

A mortar and pestle is the perfect tool for releasing our primal instinct to pound, grind, and ultimately play with our food. Using this traditional cooking tool is one of the most ancient of cooking methods. Utilizing it in today’s modern kitchen is a revolutionary way to prepare food. A mortar and pestle personifies rustic charm. It helps release profoundly sensational flavors and smells that just cannot be replicated in blenders, choppers, and other machines. It is so old, it is new!

What is a mortar and pestle

Using a blender is definitely an easy way to grind and puree herbs, garlic, onions, etc. What’s the first kitchen appliance people grab when making pesto? Why yes, it is a blender. If you’re a soul that falls in that camp you should immediately stop & reconsider the path you’re heading down! Convenience leads down to the dark side of the path. If you want to do it right, do the pesto justice, and make it out of this galaxy – use a mortar and pestle.

Traditionally, the Italians used the mortar and pestle to make pesto. Pestle = Pesto? I see a similarity.

The mortar and pestle is a tool that pounds and grinds whatever is placed in it. The bowl is usually rough ceramic, porcelain, stone or marble and the heavy-pounding-bat is usually the same material as the bowl. In the picture above, I’m using a ceramic bowl with a wooden pestle. The premise is to place the ingredients in the middle of the mortar. Then use the pestle to go to town on the mortar’s contents. There are many mortar and pestle pounding techniques, which include the gavel pound, the wax on wax off grind, and around the world in 80 pounds. Here are some of the varieties to choose from.

Why use a mortar and pestle

Everyone loves to reconnect with their roots and traditions. That is one of the core principles of cooking and why food brings people together. The mortar and pestle technique is referenced in the Old Testament and ancient Egyptians. If a technique has been along for that long, it’s gotta work. This method of food preparation is found across not only time, but spans across almost all cultures and continents.

There are two reasons why I really enjoy using a mortar and pestle. The first reason is the exercise. It gets me actively involved in the cooking process by working out my elbow grease and getting my swoll on. Got to keep these arms toned baby. The second reason is the releasing of the oils and smells. A blender or food processor just slices the ingredient, whether its basil or garlic, into a million tiny pieces. With a mortar and pestle, the grinding and pounding action causes the cell walls to burst and release an intense amount of fragrance (and hence flavor). The beautiful smells of garlic, anchovies, chilies, and herbs awaken and will full up one’s house. Talk about a nice way to mask the smell of kimchi leaking from the refrigerator.

grinding herbs and garlic upclose

My favorite uses of the mortar and pestle

It’s all about creating awesome pastes for me. I love to bring out the mortar and pestle to grind and mash a hodge podge of ingredients into a liquidity paste form to use as a marinade for meats or vibrant and homey sauces. Sometimes I just want to quickly pound and grind on a garlic or some herbs before throwing them into a cooking pan to be used in a more elaborate preparation. Instead of mincing a garlic for a recipe, pounding one into a paste in a mortar and pestle can work even better.

In our family, we like to marinate a variety of meats all the time. My dad is truly a carnivore. This is where a mortar and pestle really comes in handy for deliciousness. We throw in garlic, salt (to help release moisture), herbs from the garden, anchovies, Asian fish sauce, olive oil, and a hodge podge of other spices & ingredients (depending on the mood and desired flavor profile this go around – curry powder and lemons are great with lamb for instance), and then just work on mashing and grinding all the components into a potently fragrant paste to rub over the meat. Using the mortar and pestle over a blender definitely produces a more vibrant and flavorful marinade, plus it is just than much cooler!

4 comments… add one
  • Joseo Feb 23, 2013

    I’m in NOOD (stunning shop in auckland, New Zealand) and contemplating buying a mortar and pestle. Just read your review and made me do a literal giggle out loud! I now have just bought one. Love your style of writing! Best hangover cure on a Sunday morning! Keep writing!! Joseph

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