Ok: confession time. What kitchen gear do you use to make guacamole? Did you know that authentic Mexican guac is made in a molcajete?
“A molca-what?!”, you say. A molcajete.
You can’t make a true guacamole without a molcajete, but it’s surprisingly complicated to choose, prep, and care for this stone tool that looks so simple. We’re here to help. We talked with the pros, who shared their tips for choosing and using a molcajete.
A quality molcajete should be carved from very hard stone, usually volcanic rock. But hard stone is, well, hard to carve, so there are lots of vendors selling knock-off molcajetes made from soft stone or concrete made to look like rock. Fakes like that won’t grind your ingredients well, and the concrete can leach harmful chemicals into your food.
Melissa Guerra, owner of Melissa Guerra Latin Kitchen Market in San Antonio, Texas, sells handcrafted fair-trade cookware, including hundreds of molcajetes per year. This molcajete pro has a foolproof secret when it comes to shopping for a molcajete: scrape your nail across the surface of the bowl. “If the stone crumbles and pulverizes, then it is too soft for you to use for food,” Guerra advises. “Ingesting dust with your food is unpleasant and unhealthy.”
“Some molcajetes have intricate carving, which is quite charming,” Guerra says, “but soft stone is easier to carve, so be wary of molcajetes that are too pretty.” Guerra admits that beautiful molcajetes are hard not to buy; among the favorites she owns is one with an intricately carved pig head on it. Keep the fancy ones for display, not for guac-making.
“Don’t buy a molcajete you can’t pick up easily,” says Guerra, who recommends a molcajete of seven inches in diameter and four inches in height as the ideal.
Author and food historian Rachel Lauden , who has collected six of the seven distinct kinds of molcajetes made in Mexico, adds a tip about the other component of the molcajete: the pestle you use to grind your ingredients. It should feel comfortable in the hand, she says; otherwise, you won’t want to use it.
Cure your molcajete.
Once you’ve chosen your molcajete and brought it home, you have to cure it before you use it. That’s because small rock particles get lodged in the pores of the stone during the carving process and that grit will end up in your food.
To prevent this problem, Lauden says you’ve got to use some elbow grease. “Many Mexicans use a wire brush to get rid of any loose grit. Then they put in a handful of rice and grind it until it turns grey before discarding the rice and repeating until the rice comes out clean.” Lauden swears this is not as time-consuming or exhausting as it sounds. Bonus tip: Slightly soften (but don’t cook) the rice before use; otherwise, it will pop out of the molcajete when you try to grind it.
Guerra, who has used the brush and rice method in the past, recently discovered an even faster method to cure a molcajete: use a power washer. “Blast your new molcajete inside and out for about 10 minutes and it will be free of all loose dirt and gravel,” she said.
Wash your molcajete after each use. (This is the easy part!)
“You’re not usually grinding oily or sticky stuff in your molcajete, so any residues wash off easily with water,” says Lauden. “Mexicans use a little natural fiber brush called an escobeta to get into crevices. This is ideal, but if you can’t find one, use any stiff brush.”
But whatever you do, don’t use soap and definitely don’t put it in the dishwasher! “Hey, it’s a rock, so the dishwasher won’t hurt it. But I don’t like the idea of detergent residue getting caught in any of the stone pores. It will come out the next time you use it and give your food an off flavor.”