Mexican Cooking Utensils: Metate and Molcajete - VeraMexicana

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Mexican Cooking Utensils: Metate and Molcajete

Do you feel inspired to make Mexican food in the most authentic way possible? Learn what the Metate and the Molcajete are and how to use them in the traditional Mexican way. We’ll give you a historical perspective on these ancient (yet essential!) cooking tools while explaining how and what they are used for today.

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Mexican Cooking Utensils: Metate and Molcajete

Metate

While most families in Mexico have modern kitchen appliances such as food processors and blenders, there are still a few ancient, yet essential tools that are must-haves! These are tools that have been used for generations to master certain techniques, many of which were developed by the ancient indigenous civilizations in what is now Mexico.

One of these ancient indigenous tools is the metate. In some circles the metate is referred to as the “liquadora Azteca” or the “Aztec blender”. It is a slightly sloped (but mostly flat) grinding slap with a rectangular shape that is made from basalt stone. The metate is used with a mano, a kind of pestle, to grind cooked corn kernels into masa, which is the dough that is used to make corn tortillas.

The bowl-like curve of the metate in the upper surface is formed over time by the grinding of materials. Apart from corn, metates are also commonly used to crush cacao, and to make pinole – a powder made from crushed cocoa, agave, cinnamon, chia seeds, and vanilla for use in baked goods, cereals, beverages and more.

Because corn is, and always has been, one of the most essential crops in Mexico, it is estimated that the Mayan and Aztec civilizations have used the metate for more than 6,000 years to grind corn kernels. (If you are interested in reading more about the importance of corn in Mexican food culture then click here.)

Now back to the metate! While there are still many families that use a metate to crush their nixtamalized corn for tortillas, the use of masa harina (corn flour) has become an easier and less time-consuming method.

Molcajete

Another ancient tool that is indigenous to Mexico is a molcajete. A molcajete is, much like a mortar, a type of grinding stone that is used with a pestle called a tejolote. Molcajetes are bowl-shaped and are often made from volcanic stone. They’re used for grinding chilies, garlic, tomatoes, and other ingredients that are commonly used in Mexican cuisine.

Like the metate, it is estimated that molcajetes have been used for thousands of years in Mexico, and to this day, it is still one of the most efficient tools for grinding small amounts of spices and other ingredients. The molcajete is especially great for making guacamole, salsas, and marinades as all of the ingredients can be crushed and served in the same place.

Molcajetes can also be used as a cooking tool to serve warm dishes and sauces. This is done by heating up the molcajete over an open fire or hot coals.

When using a molcajete for the first time it is important to cure the surface before preparing any food in it - if not, small particles from the rock will end up in your food. In order to cure a molcajete, you need to smoothen the surface. Because molcajetes are made from volcanic rocks, which are quite porous, it is not recommended to use soap to wash a molcajete, as the soap will sink into the rock affecting the taste of the food that you prepare in it. To begin with, the molcajete will also have a rough, light grey, gritty appearance with large holes.

While there are different guides, on how to cure a molcajete before use, we recommended the following method:

Steps:

  • Rinse and soak the molcajete. Use a brush to remove some of the sediment that is trapped in the crevices of the stone.

  • Use the pestle to grind up several cloves of garlic and about a handful of rice until it turns into a paste. Take your time, and spread the paste all around inside of the molcajete. When you’re done, let the molcajete rest for 24 hours.

  • Rinse away the paste from the molcajete.

  • You’re done!

Once your molcajete has been cured it can be used to make delicious homemade salsas, guacamoles, pestos, and much more. The benefits of using a metate or molcajete over a modern-day blender is that when using a blender the ingredients are chopped into small bits, whereas with a molcajete or metate the ingredients are crushed entirely and smoothed, bringing out the full aroma, intensity, and taste of the spices.

If you are interested in getting your hands on a molcajete of your own, then click here. There are various provinces in Mexico where molcajetes and metates are produced. Our molcajetes are made in Puebla. Both the molcajete and metate are made by hand, and carved from large stones, and can take up to an entire day to make.