When it comes to food preparation, having the right equipment is very important. For most of us, our time spent in the kitchen means getting used to using the same preparation tools time and time again. Every now and then, though, you might need something different: for example, do you use a mortar and pestle?
This two-piece kitchen preparation tool is very useful for all manner of ingredient preparations. If you use it regularly, you might feel like you have the handle down for how it works. As many find out, though, they use a mortar and pestle – but not properly.
Ask yourself this, when using your mortar with pestle, do the ingredients stay within the mortar? Or do you have to keep picking ingredients up from the worktop?
Another question to ask yourself is this: when broken down, are your ingredients in a consistent powder-like substance, or are they broken down into uneven, weird-looking pieces?
If it is the former, then congratulations. If it is the latter, you should read on. This simple guide on using a mortar and pestle properly will ensure you stop wasting ingredients!
Getting to Know Your Mortar and Pestle
The actual device itself has been around for longer than we can tell. The mortar and pestle have been used in culinary preparation since antiquity, so it is a familiar device. The mortar is a simple little bowl, and the pestle is a small cylinder-shaped device used to break down ingredients into the right consistency. When used as a duo, they can allow you to easily break down everything from spices to nuts and other ingredients that go in everything from pasta and lasagna to sauce mixes and more.
This set of two tools used from the Stone Age to nowadays are available in numerous sizes, shapes, and materials. Most, though, will be made from stone, wood, or sometimes even stainless steel. It depends on where you are, but most of the time, you will be looking for the typical stone equivalent.
Now that you understand what a mortar and pestle are let us look at how you can use one properly for the best end results.
How to Properly Use Mortar with Pestle?
Using the pestle and mortar properly will give you the best results.
Always Start Slow
The biggest problem most people have when using the mortar is the speed of action. We get it: you are hungry, you want to eat, and you want to get the prep finished ASAP. However, if you have patience problems, you need to change that and adapt because the mortar and pestle need you to be slow.
The first thing that you need to get used to is the wrist action. Start by going slowly because ingredients not yet ground down will come flying out of the mortar. Make sure that you begin slowly, breaking down the largest chunks of the ingredients until you start to see some consistency appearing.
Now, Speed Things Up Slightly
Now that you have broken down the ingredients to a size that will not be too large start quickening the pace. Your wrist movement should be consistent, going either clockwise or anti-clockwise, but try to avoid changing from one to the other when you can. You need to break down any ingredient’s initial size and bulk before you speed up.
You could keep going at the same slow pace, which means you will not spill anything. However, the downside is that you may take too long to prepare the ingredients.
Determine What You are Breaking Down
The next step to using a mortar and pestle properly is to work out the texture of the items you are dealing with. For example, if you are dealing with something soft, you probably have to adapt your style to suit. You can tell how strong or soft something is by giving it a little pinch with your fingers. If it molds and moves as you press down, you probably have to be soft. If it feels solid, though, you might need a bit of extra elbow grease as you work it down.
- Soft Ingredients
Softer ingredients should be dealt with using a very gentle pressing down with the pestle. If you go too hard on a soft ingredient, you will flatten it. You should press down lightly and softly. Then you should start to carry out small circular motions as you press down. This is typically useful for things like saffron, where you must be very careful about how much stress you place on the ingredient.
Over time, softness and circular motions will help to shift and change the texture of the ingredients.
- Harder Ingredients
If you are dealing with something like peppercorns, then you have to be more aggressive. You might even need to crack the ingredient (especially true with peppercorns). Press the ingredients down into the side of the bowl using the pestle, and you should hear it crack and break open. When that happens, continue with the circular motion we spoke of above. That should eventually break it down.
Again, you want to continue until it is fully and finely ground down. Be consistent with the pressure and take breaks if you feel like your hands are fatiguing as you press.
When Not to Use a Mortar and Pestle?
If you are in the process of trying to use a mortar and pestle, you might find that you could (or should) be using a different resource. For example, you might find that your ingredients would be better off being chopped, blended, or even pureed. If that is the case, you should leave the mortar with the pestle to one side and use this method instead. Most recipes let you know if it needs to be ground down or if another way will be preferred.
Over time, you will learn the importance of crushing, bashing, or grinding down your ingredients. Using a mortar and pestle more often, you will understand the importance of pre-cracking and merely being slightly softer with your touch. Practice makes perfect. Over time you will begin to waste fewer ingredients and maximize the flavor profile of what you have made. Good luck and happy prepping!
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