Molcajete

My totally amazing and intuitive (and intelligent and beautiful and athletic and witty and funny as hell) sister gave me a molcajete for Christmas.

I’m not of Hispanic descent, but my husband (who is) thinks it is amusing to say that I am Mexican by marriage. Which is kinda true. Since we started dating and/or being married, I have somehow inherited the salsa-making duties.

A molcajete (pronounced “mole-kah-HET-eh”) is an ancient style of mortar. The pestle that is used with the molcajete is the tejolote (“tay-hoh-LOH-tay”). They are traditionally carved from volcanic rock and much like a cast iron pan, they need to be seasoned before use.

Having done both, I have to say that cast iron pans are a piece of freakin’ cake. I watched five episodes of Sons of Anarchy and wore out both my arms and started in on my beloved’s arms before we got that sucker done. Here’s how you do it.

Before you start: put down a tarp on the floor and have a vacuum handy, because there will be rice grains and rock salt a-flyin’ during this process.

First, soak it in hot water for 30 minutes to get any of the really loose grit off. I somehow lost the drain plug for my sink so I lined the bottom of my sink with aluminum foil. It worked.

Then let it dry thoroughly. This doesn’t take as long as I thought it would; maybe only half an hour.

Next, put a few handfuls of dry, uncooked white rice into a bowl of water. One handful at a time, grind it into the molcajete until it turns into a grey paste. This will NOT look appetizing at all. Again, the purpose is to remove the grit. After it is a paste, scoop it out of the molcajete, rinse, and repeat. You’re done when the rice paste is not grey at all. Nice, white rice paste in your molcajete. And a burning, searing pain in whichever arm you are using for this chore.

It took me seven handfuls of rice to get my molcajete satisfactorily grit-free. My arm hurts just thinking about it.

After the rice, then comes the rock salt. (Make sure you rinse all the rice out of your molcajete before you start the salt.) Take a handful of rock salt and grind it into table salt. The idea in this step is to really smooth out the bowl of the molcajete and the bottom of the tejolote for a more effective grinding surface. After each salt episode, rinse out the dish and repeat until the inside of the bowl is smooth enough to drag a fingernail across without noticeable snagging.

But you’re not done yet! Nope. No sirree bob. Now you have to actually get around to seasoning the thing.

Thought those other steps were seasoning?

Nooooo. That was just getting it to a point where you won’t be enjoying the delicious texture of volcanic rock every time you made salsa.

Seasoning: Take four cloves garlic, 1 tbsp cumin, and 1 tbsp cayenne pepper (or whatever other spices you want, really) and grind them into a lovely paste that is smeared ALL over the inside of the bowl. Leave it alone for 24 hours. Then – you guessed it – rinse and repeat!

Just kidding. Don’t repeat that step unless you’re really keen on garlicking it up. Also, be advised that this last step will absolutely make your house smell VERY strongly of garlic and cumin, so if you aren’t prepared for that, go outside. Then it will just bug your neighbors.

Anyway…after all this pain (and the beginnings of a great blister from the tejolote in the middle of my right palm), my beautiful molcajete was ready to use.

I made salsa. It took two and a half hours.

And you know what?

Best damn salsa I’ve ever made.

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