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*.
In those days, when those kinds of articles were written, there were all sorts of 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. Why no one back then bothered to ask me is anyone’s guess.
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.
While love my stand mixer and my professional-quality pots and pans, the one tool that’s irreplaceable in my kitchen is my granite 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 French cooks over the decades. But nowadays if you see one of those, it’s likely to cost hundreds of euros at an antique shop
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 love using a mortar & pestle 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.
*Update: Until a recent article in the New York Times.