Dennis Patillo is a committed foodie and chef. He has spent a lifetime studying foods from around the world as well as regional cuisines.

Guacamole in molcajete

Guacamole in molcajete

Avocados are one of my favorite foods. I use avocados instead of butter on toast. I use avocados instead of mayonnaise on sandwiches. I put avocados on top of omelets. I use them in sauces and smoothies.

I love avocados.

Probably my favorite use of avocados is guacamole, which brings me to the subject of this column: a molcajete and mano.

Like many of you, I made guacamole in a bowl using the standard ingredients: avocados, garlic, onions, jalapenos, tomatoes and lime juice. It was really good.

Eleven years ago on a business trip to Guadalajara at the Santa Coyote restaurant, I learned how truly exceptional guac was made, and it changed me forever. A server came to the table and proceeded to make the best guacamole I had ever tasted. He used the same ingredients that I have always used, but the end result was so much better. The key, I learned, was making the guacamole in a molcajete.

A molcajete is a bowl with three legs made of a volcanic rock. It’s a large mortar and pestle. The pestle is called the mano. Think of it as a Stone Age food processor. Because the ingredients are crushed rather than chopped, an intense and different flavor is produced.

A molcajete is a must-have in Mexican kitchens, and it has been for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. In some families, the molcajete is passed down through the generations. It will truly last forever if you don’t drop it.

Today, you will find molcajetes in a wide variety of sizes and made with a wide variety of materials. I encourage you to buy a traditional molcajete made from a piece of volcanic stone. They are not expensive, and as I said, it will last forever.

Before use, a molcajete must be seasoned. The process is different than the way you might season a cast-iron skillet. You don’t use oil, nor is heat involved. You only need uncooked rice or rock salt. Put a couple of tablespoons of rice in the molcajete and, using the mano, grind the rice or salt to a powder. You will notice that the powder has turned gray. Dump the powder out and repeat the process several times until the powder no longer turns gray. After each use, rinse with only water and wipe dry. Your molcajete will get better with every use. You will soon develop a depth of flavor that you cannot duplicate with any other piece of kitchen equipment.

Now back to Santa Coyote and the tableside guacamole. The server asked Louise and me if we liked our guac spicy – we like everything spicy. He then proceeded to place a tablespoon of chopped jalapeno, a clove of garlic, a tablespoon of finely chopped onions, a tablespoon of finely chopped tomato and a scant teaspoon of coarse salt into the molcajete.

Taking the mano, he crushed the ingredients to a paste. He then added two avocados he had just peeled and cut into large chunks to the molcajete and carefully mashed them into the crushed ingredients.

He then folded the same proportions of jalapenos, onions and tomatoes into the mixture. Finally, he squeezed just a touch of lime juice over the mixture and topped the whole thing with a little torn cilantro and a few crumbles of queso fresco. Simple, fresh ingredients quickly prepared, produced a magnificent dish.

The key to this dish was the molcajete. That may be difficult to believe, but it’s true. For those doubters, I encourage you to prepare two batches: one prepared the way you usually do and one prepared in a molcajete. You will find the dish prepared in the molcajete is far superior. In this case, the tool truly makes the difference.

Guacamole is not the only thing you would want to make in your molcajete. When you start making salsas, you won’t be buying the stuff in the jars ever again. I may have overstated that, but you will seldom buy the stuff in a jar again.

Ideas for salsas are unlimited. My favorite salsas begin by roasting and charring most of the ingredients.

A basic roasted salsa may include tomatoes, garlic and peppers finished with finely chopped onions that you have deflamed (rinsed under cold water) and chopped cilantro.

A recipe is include.

I hope this has encouraged you to get a molcajete, if you don’t already have one.

Get to grinding and crushing. Rock on.

Dennis Patillo is a committed foodie and chef. He has spent a lifetime studying foods from around the world as well as regional cuisines. His passion is introducing people to ingredients and techniques that can be used in their home kitchen. He and his wife, Louise, own The PumpHouse Riverside Restaurant and Bar.

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