America's Oldest Kitchen Appliance
Molcajete - Stone Sauce Bowl
Authentic molcajetes are hand carved out of volcanic rock, and are the traditional implement used for grinding spices in Mexico. Molcajetes have been used in Latin American cooking since ancient times, before the Spanish Conquest. Each molcajete traditionally has three legs, which is believed to pay homage to the god of the hearth, Huehueteotl, who was associated with the number 3. Most authentic Mexican salsa recipes will call for the use of a molcajete.
Molcajetes need to be cured before use. Curing is a process of preparing the molcajete for daily use. Just like seasoning a cast iron skillet, or softening up a new baseball glove, anyone who uses a molcajete has to spend time "breaking it in" before you use it for your favorite salsa recipe.
Curing A Molcajete in the Traditional Process
The traditional method of curing a molcajete is as follows: Wash the molcajete well with soap, water and a wire brush. Fill the molcajete bowl with uncooked rice (some prefer uncooked hard corn kernels), and wet slightly (this prevents the rice from flying out). Grind rice with the ajolote (pronounced: ah-ho-LO-teh), the pear shaped rock included. Keep grinding rice, and changing to new rice until the rice looks clean. The rice is sanding the interior of the molcajete bowl smooth. Although this is a long process, once the interior is smooth, you never have to cure the molcajete again. And even the most ancient of these kitchen implements will occasionally give up a little grit. The traditional method of curing a molcajete can take several cleaning sessions over the course of a few days.
Curing a Molcajete with Our Modern Process
However, we have developed a more modern method of seasoning a molcajete that saves lots of time and effort. Scrubbing the interior bowl of the molcajete with a small wire brush from the hardware store works incredibly well. We buy one made by Rubbermaid that has a plastic handle, and a 2” square head with wire bristles. Rinse the molcajete with water, and then scrub the interior clean with the brush, occasionally rinsing out the loosened grit. This “modern” method of molcajete curing takes about 30 minutes to an hour of total scrubbing time.
Even more efficient method of curing a molcajete is the use of a high pressure washing hose. Many handy households have invested in high pressure washers for cleaning grime off of sidewalks, vehicles and buildings. Water scrubbing a molcajete can cure it in about 5 minutes, but make sure to wash both the interior and exterior of the molcajete bowl. High pressure washers also work extremely well when trying to cure a metate (pronounce me-TAH-te), an ancient stone grinding table traditionally used for grinding corn and chocolate. If you don't have a high pressure washer, you can always stop in at your local "wash-it-yourself" carwash (not the drive through kind, but the park and use the hose kind) High pressure washing car washes charge a couple of bucks to use a pressure wash, and you could easily have your molcajete cured within 10 minutes.