Seasoning Your Molcajete

Monday, February 1, 2010

-Pictured: The leading cause of deaths on airplanes.-

One of the things I was determined to pick up in Mexico was a molcajete - a traditional mortar and pestle carved from volcanic rock. I've never been one for kitschy trinkets so if I want to bring something home from a trip I try to make sure it's something practical that I'll actually utilize. That way every time I use it I can remember the good times I had.

Upon purchasing it I was given a set of instructions on how to season it since the bowl had only been freshly carved a few days ago and was a total mess. The inside felt like sandpaper and the slightest touch left your hands stained black with oily soot.

The following is my own altered set of instructions which every American, and probably Canadian and Englander, should utilize should they find themselves in possession of a new molcajete.

Step One: Get it Into the Country

Due to people armed with nail clippers and crotch bombs this is surprisingly difficult to do, even when you're checking your bag. Apparently the pestle is seen as two types of dangers to Air Marshals and the U.S. Government. The first being, I kid you not, an agricultural hazard. Volcanic bowls are apparently so hot they're viral.

The second is a fear that in the middle of the flight I may rummage through my carry-on, grab the pestle, and then go postal and use some little old lady's skull as a mortar, mashing her brains into a salmon colored dip for tortilla chips before taking out the other passengers.

Step Two: Once state-side convince U.S. customs that, no, you are no going to use the bowl as a weapon.

I claimed my bag in the U.S. and was told to check it again for the next plane from Phoenix to Sacramento. Apparently lobbing a stone bowl like a softball at a little league game is a leading cause of death on planes. Seriously, they actually said that I might try to crush someone's head with it. I told them I had a book to keep my attention which would prevent me from killing someone. They took this as a valid reason to let me carry on the bag.

No, I'm not kidding.

Step Three: Soak

Get a large stock or soup pot and fill it with warm water. Place the bowl inside it and let it soak for about an hour. This will help lift and soften the outer layer of volcanic dust and loose rock.

Step Four: Scrub It Like You're Cinderella

This dust is surprisingly fine and greasy and will get everywhere. At this point you should be wearing an apron or some clothes you once though were cool but can't seem to give up. (For me this is a tight pink t-shirt that says "Learn How to Pimp!" and seemed like a smart purchase when I was nineteen.) Get a wire brush and go at it from all sides for about 15 minutes or until your hands no longer become black at the touch of it.

-Warning: If you suffer from arthritis or heart problems, find someone else to do this job.-

Step Five: Grind Rice

Place a few tablespoons of rice and a tablespoon or two of water into the bowl and begin pestling like you'll win a prize. Keep grinding until the rice is a fine paste. Your arm will get sore. Your elbow may need a pin in it afterwards. The purpose of this is to smooth out the inside of the bowl and polish it up a bit.

Step Six: Mash Garlic

This is to season the bowl and put a little bit of oil into the rock. By far the most fun part as it's easy to grind and smells wonderful.

Your bowl is now ready for whatever you're gonna mash into it. I highly suggest grabbing some avocados, a key lime, and some cilantro and making yourself some guacamole. At this point you've worn out your arm, your hand is numb, and you're probably on a government "No Fly" list - you deserve it!

-Damn, this thing was a bitch to photograph.-


  1. they let you carry it on because you had a book? omg that is insane! They made me check my bag over christmas because I had gotten a solid wood rolling pin and they thought I was going to hit someone over the head with it... I should have told them I have a book!

    I love my molcajete - enjoy it!

  2. Wow, that's gorgeous... I want one! And I want to know what you're making with it next, I'm fascinated.

    Flying home from Honduras a few weeks ago, I had a cake from a friend wrapped in tin foil I was carrying on. Large chunks of cake wrapped in foil should look suspiciously like drugs on the x-ray, but no one, in Honduras or the US, stopped me. None of them even asked me to open the package.

  3. Ah, you beat me to it - I was going to post about this on Monday!

    The security guy in Zihuatanejo would NOT let me keep the molcajete in my carry-on bag, which ended up being a blessing as I was running to make the connecting flight in Houston. Let the TSA people lift my heavy checked bag with the dangerous stone bowl inside, I'll just sprint from terminal to terminal unhindered.

  4. Great post Garret - I laughed out loud a few times. Learn to Pimp!!

  5. Oops! I took my mother's stone mortar and pestle years ago and never did all this prep. Now I'm wondering how much dust and grease I've eaten over the years. Blech.

    Will give it the TLC you've described. Thanks.

    P.S. Owen once tried to board a plane with a tiny screwdriver, which officials took. Attention terrorists: you can dismantle a plane with a screwdriver. Who knew?

  6. Niiiice. I've wanted one so badly. :\ Hopefully one day. :D

  7. What a wonderful world of food by a true foodie....hopped by here coz of the name....vanilla vanilla,how can it not be everybodys fav.....

    U know out here too we have all the tlc over a new sweet little motar and pestle and honestly we are on the look out foe one at the moment...jus like urs


  8. OH my God! I have this Garret but never seen in other blog! Is nice for sauces, guacamole and others.
    I love mine because was form my Grand Mom, I really lover your blog, cheers gloria

  9. Hola Garrett,
    You truly are adventurous..don't they sell molcajetes at your local tienda Mexicana? Reading your blog reminded me of my Mama Maria Guadalupe,(paz descanse) who use to own Pancho's Village Mexican Restaurant in Chicago..molcajete salsa was the brought joy into my life today LOL Muchisimas Gracias!!!

  10. ...CROTCH BOMBS? I mean, there was that one guy in Detroit around Christmas who had something like that, but wow, crotch bombs. (If you were kidding, I sincerely apologize. But you never know.)

    On topic, that mortar and pestle is freakin' gorgeous! I want one, but I can hear my mother telling me in my head to use a bowl and a cleaver handle instead. D:

  11. This is too funny. We were just picturing you scrubbing the mortar and pestle with the "learn to pimp" shirt and couldn't stop laughing. Very good read.

  12. You can buy a Molcajete at Sur La Table, although you still have to do the rice step. Loved the post & laughed out loud. :)

  13. This made my day! Thanks for the good laugh a few times~

  14. And yet, my teen son got through with his box-set of EXACTO knives with 8 different blades (he does stencils for T-shirts and I had no idea he packed this in his carry-on.) Obviously kitchen tools are the real threat. Loved your post, you made me laugh out loud as usual!

  15. Mexican molcajete actually looks a lot like Malaysian mortar and pestle, except the "legs" at the bottom. Every country in SEA has a slight variation. I have always wanted to bring one back from Malaysia but alas, it's too heavy to bring back. :(

  16. A fun post. I will definitely be back.

  17. That was such an entertaining post! I love the pictures too. My kids gave me one as a birthday gift--didn't come along with an entertaining story but I love it. I use it regularly.

  18. Just goes to show that there will be another terrorist attack someday if all you have to do is tell them you have a book. Scary! But your post was funny. Love the new mortar and pestle!

  19. I really enjoy your writing and this Molcajete is beautiful. I did not know that is is such a hustle to bring it back, though. Thank you for all the info!

  20. First, thanks for the steps for seasoning! My husband carried ours across the border down in Tijuana. It's a little easier than flying.

    I didn't know about the soaking and scrubbing but did try the rice. It killed my arm. I haven't used it because I was concerned about food getting into the pores.

    How do you clean it after use? Can soap be used on it?

  21. Teresa - I have no idea. I just wash it out. Never got info on the cleaning.

  22. Lordy, I'm so glad I was able to find mine (shaped like a three-legged pig) in a local Mexican grocery (here in Eureka) so didn't have to transport it - it weighs a ton! I do remember the gray rice dust that was pretty nasty but not "greasy" so maybe they had done some pre-cleaning. Now that it's seasoned, I just use water and a brush to clean it after use.

  23. I just finished an hour of pulverizing rice in my new 10 pound molcajete, and then happily came upon your post. It's great to see the water trick with the rice, as I think there's still another hour of grinding to do. *Sigh* I've had Arborio flying all over the kitchen from grinding without water, and it would probably work better with the longer grain type in your photo, Love the pink t-shirt, I laughed so hard, and you gave me visions of all the lovely guacamole servings to come. Thanks. :D

  24. Aloha, Just picked up a granite Mocajete, seasoning should be the same process. I don't have to fly with it but..My wife was flying with her guitar as a carry-on and get this... the TSA retards made her take off the strings to "make it safe and unusable as a weapon".????? well if she had decided to become El CaBong at 20 thousand feet i doubt that a stingless guitar would have been less painful over the captains head. Anyway forget the guitar, now that she was armed with guitar-less stings she could have strangled irritating passengers or flight staff if she chose to do so, since she didn't have a book to keep her occupied.


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