The How-To Kitchen: Seasoning a Molcajete + Smoky Tomato Salsa

How many of you have been out at a Mexican restaurant and ordered the guacamole made tableside? That rock bowl in which the guac is pulverized is known as a molcajete y tejalote, Spanish for “mortar and pestle.” This carved basalt tool is traditionally used in Mexico, passed down through generations in many families (kind of like how I inherited my cast iron skillet!), and develops a gorgeous patina and texture over time.

seasoning a molcajete
Even though I’ve got a small ceramic mortar and pestle, I just couldn’t resist getting my hands on one when I was down in Mexico for Food Blogger Camp, and am pretty pleased with my impulsive decision. It’s a load, but Dan says my salsa tastes “just like in a restaurant!” and I’m psyched to have a bigger bowl for crushing roasted spices. If you decide to spring for this heavy piece of equipment, here’s how to break it in.

If you buy your molcajete from a specialty kitchenware store, chances are it will arrive clean and ready for seasoning. If you buy it from a local market or maybe cart it home in your suitcase from Zihuatanejo (like a fool we all know), then it might be covered in a layer of black soot that you’ll need to scrub off.

Luckily, the soot comes off easily with water and a wire brush. Submerge your molcajete in water (I used an industrial-sized plastic tub) and scrub away, lifting and dunking to see where the gray rock is exposed. If you can do this outside, so much the better, as the wire brush tends to spritz the dirty water everywhere. Once the entire piece is gray instead of black, give it a final rinse and allow to dry fully.

Now it’s seasoning time for the molcajete. Basically, the process “cleans” up the bowl of the stone by removing extra pumicey rock bits (you are working with a piece of carved volcanic rock, after all) and creating a smoother grinding surface akin to using a fine-grit sandpaper instead of a coarse-grit piece that will just tear stuff up. You’re looking for a surface that can turn spices into powder and make smooth salsas, not something that will leave you with rough chunks.

The best way to do this is by grinding rice down into powder. Watch the video to see how:

To clean your molcajete and tejalote, just rinse thoroughly and scrub gently with a potato or mushroom brush if there are any tenacious bits of food clinging to it. Don’t use dish soap or put it in the dishwasher—like a pizza stone, the basalt rock is porous and will absorb the soap’s fragrance, unpleasantly permeating anything else you put in the bowl.

Once your molcajete is seasoned, it’s time to christen it with a round of homemade salsa. Adapted from the house recipe at Cafe Pasqual’s in Santa Fe (home of the best savory breakfast dish ever, the huevos motuleños), this smoky tomato salsa is the one that makes Dan swoon. Is it quicker than making salsa in the food processor? Hell no. Does it taste better? You’re the final judge, but I say the extra ten minutes is worth the trouble.

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  1. says

    Great tutorial! I don’t have one — not enough room anymore, but look at it at store frequently.
    gift. LOL

  2. says

    I thought of getting one too, but chose the weakling route, not wanting to add more weight to my already full suitcase.

    The other day I was making pesto and kicking myself for not having one. Looks like a trip to the Mexican market is in order!

  3. Casey BarberCasey says

    You don’t have to prepare the tejalote separately – it seasons itself as you work the rice and spices into the molcajete.

  4. Willa says

    I want to to thank you for this very good read!! I certainly loved every
    little bit of it. I’ve got you saved as a favorite to look at new things you post…

  5. Maria says

    That’s an excellent display of a traditional method of cleaning a new molcajete. Handed down for centuries before modern machine tools pre smoothened the insides and homes got running water. Water and a brush to clean. Your choice of spices to season.