No Mexican kitchen in Puerto Vallarta would be without a molcajete. Pronounced mohl-kah-HEH-tay, and deriving from the Nahuatl molcaxitl, a molcajete is a Mexican mortar and pestle. Used primarily for grinding a variety of different foods and grains, the molcajete is made from a single piece of vesicular (volcanic) basalt.
The molcajete has been around for a long time, dating to pre-Hispanic Aztec and Mayan cultures; thousands of years. A traditional molcajete is round and has three stout legs; it may have the head of a creature carved on the outside edge, representing an animal and in most cases a pig.
The temolote is the tool one holds while grinding made of the same basalt. These two instruments used together grind and mash spices and salsas, and you will often see them used to make guacamole tableside. It is amazing how the coarse bowl of the molcajete sustains itself over time. Basalt bubbles are ground down to maintain the texture.
Over time, we have carried molcajetes from Puerto Vallarta as gifts back to the US and Canada. Some people like to display them ornamentally, while others put their new kitchen aid to use. Before employing a new molcajete in the kitchen, it must be broken in by grinding uncooked white rice by the handfuls. The basalt will break loose, which you wouldn’t want to happen while using it to prepare food. Grinding the rice until there are no longer visible grey specks of basalt will get it ready for cooking. A small bit of the rice will remain in the surface, which isn’t an issue. Molcajetes don’t get cleaned as much as they get seasoned, just like your cast iron skillets. Once you grind spices in the molcajete and prepare guacamole, it will retain flavors to pass on to future preparations.
Considering that a mocajete is volcanic rock, it will stay hot for a long time after using it for heated dishes. Don’t try to pick it up until it’s completely cooled down. We have seen molcajetes used on hot coals and grills but they need to be handled with great care.
If you plan to buy a molcajete in Puerto Vallarta and fly with it, we highly recommend carrying it onboard, wrapped loosely so it can be inspected. Carrying it in your suitcase will add such an enormous weight; you’ll hardly be able to pack anything else and still be under regulation. But it’s one of the best gifts we can think of for anyone interested in kitchen tools or art.
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