Gear for the Mexican KitchenNov 26th, 2011 | By Cecilia | Category: show tips, the show
You don’t need fancy gadgets to cook good Mexican food, but there are a few items that are helpful when creating authentic dishes. Not only that, they’re just fun to have.
A Molcajete is an indispensable kitchen tool that’s made from volcanic rock (basalt) and serves as a mortar.
They are normally black in color and rough in texture and stand on three legs. Sometimes they will have the heads of animals carved into them, the pig being most common. The accompanying grinding tool is called a tejolote, and is made of the same material.
The thing about the molcajete is that it needs to be seasoned before use because if it is not seasoned, the granules of the volcanic rock from which is it wrought will end up in your food making it gritty. If you buy a molcajete as opposed to having it passed down to you, you will need to season it.
- Soak the molcajete several ours. Remove from water and let it air dry.
- Add about a quarter cup white rice to the bowl of the molcajete and with the tejolote, grind it into a powder–it will turn gray. Dump it out and add more rice and repeat the process until the crushed rice remains white.
- Some suggest you then take cilantro, cumin and rock salt and make a paste using the molcajete, and leave it overnight, allowing the Mexican mortar to absorb the flavors. And then clean it the next day, and you are ready to cook.
A comal looks suspiciously like a cast iron skillet minus the sides (sometimes they even come disguised as a double griddle–true story). You can also find comals without long handles, so they look like round, flat pieces of cast iron. Sort of.
A comal is used dry for toasting ingredients like chilis and spices, and is essential for cooking tortillas–both flour and corn. However, if you have at least a 10-inch cast iron skillet at home, it will work perfectly well, albeit won’t be as cool.
No matter what kind of cooking you do, a citrus juicer comes in handy. There are electric models that can make short work of any lime, lemon, orange or grapefruit you might have, but more satisfying are the hand-held manual models. They are made of a durable metal and have a lever action. You place half of the citrus fruit in the device and squeeze, thus efficiently extracting the juice and leaving behind the peel and seeds. Cheap entertainment.
Tortilla presses are used for making corn tortillas. They consist of a hinged metal or wooden device. Becasue the dough for corn tortillas can be a little sticky, you’ll line the press with plastic wrap or waxed paper, and then place a ball of prepared masa in the center and give it a good smoosh. Presto–a corn tortilla!
If you prefer the flour tortillas, you’ll need a rolling pin. You can use the typical ones you find in most American kitchens that consist of a cylinder of wood or some kind of metal, with a handle on each end. Or, you can use the streamlined Mexican version with is essentially a large wooden dowel, about one and a half to two inches in diameter and about 12-inches long. Using your palms, you roll the pin over the dough to make the tortillas. It took me a long time before I could make round tortillas; until then, they all looks like the various continents.
Making tamales is a lot of work, but also a lot of fun if you are making them with a group of people. And when you are done with the labor, you’ll want to try out your work, and you will need a steamer for that. You can buy a tamale steamer at some grocery stores, or at Mexican markets, or you can make your own. You’ll need a large stock pot with a tight fitting lid that will also accommodate a metal colander inverted on the bottom.
Fill the pot with a several inches of water and put it on the stove top over high heat. When the water comes to a boil, place the colander, that you’ve covered with foil, over the water. The foil will keep the water from coming into t contact with the tamales. Place the tamales around the colander, and then cover them loosely with a clean cotton dish towel. Next put the cover on the pot and lower the heat to medium high to steam the tamales.