Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Molcajete

A molcajete is a stone tool, the traditional Mexican version of the mortar and pestle tool, similar to the South American batan (stone) used for grinding various food products. The molcajete was used by pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican cultures including the Aztec and Maya, stretching back several thousand years, and likely evolved from the more primitive metate grinding slab. Traditionally carved out of a single block of vesicular basalt, molcajetes are typically round in shape and supported by three short legs. They are frequently decorated with the carved head of an animal on the outside edge of the bowl, giving the molcajete the appearance of a short, stout, three-legged animal. The pig is the most common animal head used for decoration of this type. The matching hand-held grinding tool, known as a tejolote, is also made of the same basalt material. Most pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican molcajetes were made of ceramic rather than stone, especially among the Aztecs.

Molcajetes are used to crush and grind spices, and prepare salsas, and guacamole. The rough surface of the basalt stone creates a superb grinding surface that maintains itself over time as tiny bubbles in the basalt are ground down, replenishing the textured surface. As the porous basalt is impossible to fully clean and sanitize, molcajetes are known to "season" (much like cast iron skillets), carrying over flavors from one preparation to another. Salsas and guacamole prepared in molcajetes are known to have a distinctive texture, and some also carry a subtle difference in flavor, from those prepared in blenders. Molcajetes can also be used as a cooking tool, where it is heated to a high temperature using an open fire or hot coals, and then used to heat its food contents. Although true molcajetes are made of basalt, imitations are sometimes made of a mixture of pressed concrete and volcanic rock particles.

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