Appetizers & Snacks | How-Tos | Recipes

How to Season a Molcajete and Make 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.

molcajete y tejalote
Photo: Casey Barber

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.

To Start:

If you buy your molcajete from a 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.

making salsa in a molcajete
Photo: Casey Barber

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.

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.

how to season a molcajete

How to Season a 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).

This creates 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.

Add a handful of rice and a splash of water to the bowl and grind into a paste. The rice will turn grayish and damp.

Discard the wet rice, scrub clean with water, and let dry.

making salsa in a molcajete
Photo: Casey Barber

Give the surface of the molcajete an initial seasoning with a few chopped garlic cloves, and about 1/2 teaspoon each cumin and coriander seeds.

Grind them into a paste, then wipe clean. Now you’re ready to go!

Time for Salsa

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 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.

salsa in a molcajete

To clean your molcajete and tejalote after making any salsa or guacamole in it, just rinse thoroughly and scrub gently with a potato or mushroom brush.

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.

salsa in a molcajete with chips

Molcajete Tomato Salsa

Yield: about 3 cups
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Additional Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Make tomato salsa in the molcajete for a fresh, chunky condiment that's so much better than the jarred version.

Ingredients

  • 4 medium tomatoes
  • 2 jalapeno peppers
  • 1/2 Vidalia or sweet white onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, leaves and small stems only—if you're a cilantro-phobe, just sub in flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • fresh lime wedges
  • tortilla chips for serving

Instructions

  1. Preheat a griddle or grill basket on a grill over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, and onion to the griddle or basket.
  3. Cover and cook until the skins start to char and burst. (Timing will be different for the various vegetables, so check and flip as needed.)
  4. Remove the charred vegetables with tongs and let cool on a cutting board until you can handle them.
  5. Roughly chop the tomatoes and onion and slice the jalapenos.
  6. Fill the bowl of your molcajete with half the tomatoes and onion, and add the jalapenos and reserved chopped garlic. Sprinkle with salt.
  7. Slowly begin to mash with the tejalote.
  8. After a few minutes, as the ingredients start to blend and become less chunky, add the cilantro and the remaining ingredients in handfuls.
  9. It will look messy and you'll wonder if you'll ever be able to pulverize all those onion bits and tomato skins. You will.
  10. Be patient, keep working the mixture, and let the friction of the stone to its work.
  11. Stop when you get to a consistency that works for you—let some tomato chunks remain or keep going to make a more homogenous salsa.
  12. Squeeze lime wedges over the salsa to taste.
  13. Serve with tortilla chips, of course!
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 130Total Fat: 5gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 21mgSodium: 469mgCarbohydrates: 13gFiber: 2gSugar: 4gProtein: 8g

The nutritional information above is computer-generated and only an estimate.

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7 Comments

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

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

  4. 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. 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.

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