The pestle and mortar are a dynamic duo that have been used since ancient times to prepare ingredients and infuse dishes with flavour. From cracking peppercorns to creating aromatic curry paste, these tools are more versatile than you may think and can take pride of place in any modern kitchen.
Pestle and Mortar — which is which?
Pestle and mortar, mortar and pestle — you may hear these implements referred to in either order. Because they are always sold as a set rather than separately, it can be confusing to remember which part is which!
A pestle is described as a ‘heavy, blunt tool used to grind things up’. The term ‘pestle’ comes from the Latin word pistillum, which means ‘pounder.’
A mortar is a bowl used to hold ingredients crushed by the pestle.
The pestle and mortar have been used for thousands of years for grinding grain, herbs, and medicines. Nowadays, you can use your mortar and pestle to create an array of dips, marinades, and spice mixes and enjoy the aromas they release in the process.
How to use a pestle and mortar
When considering grinding up ingredients for a recipe, you may first look at a blender. However, a pestle and mortar enable you to have more control over the resulting texture.
There are two main methods when it comes to using these tools.
Firstly, you can bash the pestle against the mortar using large motions. This is a great technique for crushing larger seeds and spices but it’s a good idea to hold one hand over the bowl to stop the contents from ricocheting across the kitchen.
Muddling is another method you can use. Holding the pestle firmly in one hand, twist it against the ingredients, so they grind against the bottom and sides of the mortar. Muddling works well for producing smoother results. The finer you want the grind, the more you can twist.
Unlike a blender, pestle and mortar sets are easy to clean. There are no nooks and crannies to get to. If you’ve only used dry ingredients, you can just give the utensils a quick wipe. Some sets, like the Suribachi Mortar and Pestle, come with a handy brush to help you remove any crushed seeds, herbs, and spices.
If your set needs a deeper clean, you can wash the pestle and mortar with warm water or put it in the dishwasher if suitable. However, it’s best to avoid washing up liquid, which can leave a lasting residue and taste.
It’s worth noting that, before you use your pestle and mortar for the first time, you’ll need to ‘cure’ them. When you first get your set, you might notice some loose grit particles. To prevent these from ending up in your food, you can place a small handful of white rice in the mortar, add a tablespoon of water, and grind the mixture into a paste. Work the rice paste around every inner surface of the mortar. Rinse and repeat a few times until there is no longer any loose debris.
The pestle and mortar are a dream team when it comes to making punchy pesto.
Rather than shredding or finely chopping garlic, basil, and pine nuts, which can cause them to taste bitter, muddling the ingredients with a pestle and mortar releases the oils, flavours and fragrances.
Add in a generous glug of olive oil, and you’ll have a sauce that’s tempting to eat by the spoonful as well as melt into pasta.
Achieve rustic, textured hummus by muddling chickpeas, garlic and tahini with your pestle and mortar. A squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil will have you vowing never to plump for store-bought hummus again!
Unleash a world of fragrance by creating your own signature spice blend. Sure, you can get pre-made rubs and mixtures, but grinding them yourself ensures that they’ll be super-fresh and potent.
Whether you bash chilli flakes, cumin and paprika for a fiery fajita mix or muddle a vibrant tandoori spice blend, the joy of using a pestle and mortar is that you can decide how coarse or fine you’d like the texture.
Have you ever tried to blitz almonds or peanuts with a hand blender and been pelted with shards? Using a pestle and mortar gives you direct control. Just remember to hold the mortar steady if you’re using the bashing method and cover the top of the bowl so nothing escapes.
Making Curry Paste
Nothing beats the flavour of a homemade curry paste. Plus, making it from scratch will infuse your kitchen with a mouthwatering fragrance.
Curry paste recipes might require lots of ingredients, but once you’ve gathered them all, the mashing process is straightforward and the authentic flavour will be worth it. This Thai green curry paste recipe offers the perfect way to put your pestle and mortar skills into practice.
Crush garlic easily
If you’re looking to get a strong flavour from your garlic puree without bitterness, using a pestle and mortar could be the option for you. Muddling the garlic produces a smooth paste with a slightly sweet flavour — ideal for spreading on bread.
What to look for in a pestle and mortar
The first thing to take into consideration when choosing a pestle and mortar is its size. Are you going to be grinding small amounts of spices at a time or preparing large batches of pesto and hummus?
It’s a good idea to go for a pestle and mortar made from a solid, sturdy material — particularly the mortar, which you don’t want to wobble. Marble is a popular option, or you could go for ceramic if you want something a bit more lightweight. If you plan on using ingredients like turmeric, which can stain, you may wish to go for a darker material such as granite.
Why not choose an elegant granite pestle and mortar with a polished surface? Transfer seamlessly from preparation to serving with these stylish options.