A slow, rolling thunder fills the kitchen. The anticipation of something spectacular reverberates on the counter. It’s an earthly sound, quite unlike the electric churn of a kitchen appliance: the rhythmic rumble of a pestle and mortar. It is said to be one of the most under-utilised kitchen tools around, but harnessing the potential it holds will transform your homemade meals. Here’s why you should be cooking with a pestle and mortar.
These two items are almost always referred to in conjunction, so just so you know which is which, the mortar is the bowl that holds the ingredients being pulverised. The pestle is the heavy, hand-held grinder used for mashing the ingredients. Together, they are magical.
Reason #1: Major flavour potential
Chopping up fresh herbs to add to your food is a great start but just think of the scent released when you rip a bunch of basil from the bush or crush a garlic clove. Those lovely culinary aromas are increased tenfold when you infuse all the flavours together in the belly of the mortar and because the pounding of spices, rinds and herbs is an additive experience, your marinade, spice mix or pesto builds, layer upon layer of intoxicating flavour. You’re essentially marrying them long before they are ever tasted in a single serving, creating a whole new cumulative flavour.
Reason #2: He who holds the pestle determines the grind
There is something quite satisfying in being able to decide just how fine you like or need your spice infusion to be. If you’re making a rub for steak you may want the mixture to be quite coarse but you’ve also just realised this combination would work wonders as an addition to your mushroom sauce — and then you would want it to be a finer powder. Chunky salsa or creamy dip? Bitsy infusion or complex emulsion? The power of the pestle lies solely in your hands and when eating in your home, your family and friends will know that your intuition and druid-like skill is what made the meal the unique dish that it is.
Reason #3: Connect to the now and live in the moment
We’ve become so used to the pre-made, store-bought salsas, drizzles, spice mixes and infusions that we often simply dollop them onto our steaks and into our sauces. Understanding exactly what quantities go into a pesto allows for fine tweaking and adaptation — maybe you don’t have pine nuts today and use some macadamias instead — and help bring about entirely new culinary experiences.
You can work with whatever is in your garden and your pantry at the time, meaning your green pesto pasta never really tastes exactly the same every time you make it. You get to engage with your food and be inspired by perhaps the last recipe you read or a new spice you got from a travelling friend.
By making smaller batches you’ll also never have an off jar of mouldy pesto at the back of your fridge, which brings with it the satisfaction of knowing that each meal, no matter how simple, is the freshest it can be.
For when time allows, the pulverising and bashing of herbs and spices is one of the best therapies that can be found in the kitchen. The slow and steady control of flavour release connects you to the process of preparing your food, filling the kitchen with potent aromas and when you then taste that incredible concoction, you’ll feel like you’ve earned it and your biceps will thank you.