My Mortar and Pestle
A long, long time ago, I remember an article in a food magazine where they asked a bunch of chefs and cookbook authors what their favorite piece of cookware was. But no one asked me.
There were all these smiling faces of happy cooks and writers, presumably whisking things up in their kitchens, chopping away at chocolate and toasted nuts, and spinning salads around and around and around. And talking about it! Why no one bothered to ask me is anyone’s guess.
And after over twenty years, it finally dawned on my that I don’t have to sit by the phone one more afternoon waiting for the phone to ring. I can bypass the middle man, or woman, and tell you right here. I will be silenced no longer!
While love my standing electric mixer and my professional-quality pots and pans, the one tool that’s irreplaceable in my cuisine is my mortar & pestle. When I moved to France, I wanted one of those jumbo models from Provence, glazed with a brilliant-yellow sheen and a stubby wooden pestle, obviously used by many a cook over the decades. But nowadays if you see one of those, it’s likely to cost hundreds of euros at an antiquaire.
So one day I was shopping in Chinatown in Paris and came upon a shelf of mortar & pestles that cost around 15€ ($20) I lugged one all the way home on the Métro. (You may remember my sordid search?) And I’ve never regretted the pain of hauling it up and down all those underground stairs and sub-Parisian passageways one bit. Although at the time I thought I was sure to drop it and cause a scene during rush hour. When a friend saw mine, he said, “Why didn’t you pick one up for me too?” Uh…yeah, right.
I worship at the altar of my mortar & pestle and use it for everything, from noisily crushing spices, crushing seasoned salts, loudly smashing black olives for tapenade, mashing basil for pistou, forcefully pounding garlic for aioli and grinding caramelized nuts into smooth praline paste. It also makes for a nice workout, instead of plugging something in. But I’m not sure my neighbors downstairs think so.
I just hope they remain silent about it a little longer than I did.