Molcajete, First Attempt
April 6, 2011 § 7 Comments
Just over a week ago I turned 33, and for my birthday Kelly got me a molcajete, the authentic Mexican version of a mortar and pestle made of lava rock.
I’d wanted a good mortar and pestle for a while, but admittedly had no idea what one actually did with them besides pulverize spices. The literature accompanying my gift explained that in Mexican cuisine the molcajete is most often used for salsas and guacamole, which I can always get behind. Then, after binging on some Jamie Oliver—who, at least in the Oliver’s Twist series, pretty much uses a Thai granite version in every episode—it became clear that my new volcanic plaything and I were going to get on swimmingly.
But before I could dive in and start pounding garlic, there was the matter of de-gritting. I found a variety of methods online, the most common thread involving getting a bunch of dry rice and just going to town on it until you’ve broken off all the little bits that will come off. Thankfully, a number of folks mentioned that one should do this outdoors. Instead of having folks throw rice at our wedding, maybe we should line everyone up and give them molcajetes.
After grinding unto flour about eight handfuls of rice, I stopped noticing blackish-gray specks. See the rice everywhere? Yeah, do this outdoors.
We took a trip to La Mexicana Market, easily one of my favorite places in Kalamazoo, and were then ready to get started. First up, the pork marinade.
- 5-6 cloves garlic
- one small serrano pepper
- zest and juice of one lime
- olive oil (a few tablespoons)
- two or three chipotle peppers
- tablespoon or so of adobo sauce
- cilantro (handful)
- salt (pinch)
I started with the garlic, pulverizing to a paste in the molcajete, then choped the serrano and added it to the mix, followed by the cilantro. I found myself grinding in big circles, stopping occasionally to push the mixture back down the sides. The order of events here isn’t all that important. You mainly want the harder-to-crush ingredients to go in first so they benefit from the rough surface before adding in the liquids. Once everything was well mashed and blended, I poured the mixture into a ziplock bag with some thin-cut pork chops, sealed it, then squished vigorously until the swine was coated.
Next up, a Tomatillo Salsa Verde.
- 5-6 cloves garlic
- 1/2 serrano pepper
- 5-6 tomatillos
- cilantro (handful)
- chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
- juice of 1/2 lime
Again, I started with the garlic, pulverizing to paste, then added the serrano as before. I was about to add the tomatillos when I noticed small black specks peppering the mixture. Tasting a bit off my finger confirmed it. Grit. I took a break to mope while Kelly finished the salsa in the blender. She set half aside for chip purposes, mixing the other half with cooked rice for a spicy salsa verde rice thing which was just damn tasty. I got ready to cook the pork (as I feared, it too was tainted with grit, but I figured I’d go ahead as planned and worry about it later), and Kelly went on to make the pico:
Mango Clementine Pico
- 1 mango, diced
- 2 clementines
- half a red onion, finely diced
- cilantro, coarsely chopped
- frozen corn (two handfuls or so)
- chili powder (to taste)
I seared the pork for about 20 seconds each side in a cast iron skillet, then put it in a 350 degree oven for about ten minutes. This method would have worked better for thicker chops. These, however, were pretty thin, and were I doing them over I think I’d omit the oven and just stick to the skillet for no longer than it took to cook them. I knew the grit from the molcajete had made them inedible as they were, but I plated anyway and took a picture as if I’d won. I tasted a small bite and the flavor was good, which made me all the sadder when I had to wash them off to get rid of the grit. Enough of the marinade soaked in that, with the pico, the meal wasn’t a complete loss—just not quite what I’d been looking forward to since bruising the marinade-smells into the air earlier in the evening. So for now it’s back to the porch with more rice, corn, and whatever else I can find to grind the molcajete into shape. Once it’s there, I’m definitely going to try this recipe again.