Thursday, February 16, 2006

Mortar and Pestle the Way God Intended

I seldom look for shortcuts or high tech equipment to help me with prep tasks. Herb choppers or garlic presses always seemed irrelevant to me because I can chop herbs and mash garlic just as fast with my Wusthof knife. Beside my knife is easier to wash than all those gadgets. But there is one old fashioned tool that I hate with a vengeance – mortar and pestle. Attempting to make aioli in it just once has totally rid me of desire to pound any food related item ever again. In spite of many cooks’ conviction that nothing can rival the taste of hand pounded pesto, I think I do quite well with a food processor – thank you very much. And the blender does an amazing job with herb oils. Dump a bunch of parsley and couple of cups of oil into a blender, bzzz, and voila – parsley oil is ready.

There is just one little problem – food processors and blenders only works for large quantities. When you want less than 1/2 cup of some sauce, you are in trouble. No matter how much I scrape the sides, and try to get stuff to stay close to the blade, it flies all over and never really gets pureed. Couple of times, I was really close to buying a decent mortar and pestle solely for that purpose. But I am glad that I didn’t because a supped up version of mortar and pestle surreptitiously made its way into my kitchen.

After reading Clotilde’s (from Chocolate & Zucchini) rhapsody on her immersion blender, I gave it to myself for Christmas, and it has revolutionized my life in the kitchen. “Revolutionized” is a strong word usually used in vain by dot-coms and pharmaceutical companies to sell you something you don’t need. But I am not kidding – immersion blender has changed how I cook. Sure, it has all those nice features that people tell you about, like puréeing a soup right in its pot and the ease of cleaning. But the thing that made the most difference to me is being able to purée small amounts of stuff. I’ve made 1/4 cup portions of herb cream, walnut cream, asparagus cream, anchovy vinaigrette (without having to mash garlic and anchovies first), and today I even made my own green curry paste.

Why would I make my own curry paste when I could buy it at Whole Foods? Because I don’t really like Whole Foods “Thai” brand all that much. I am definitely not critiquing its authenticity. Asian cooking is not my area of expertise. But I find their pastes to have very little flavor besides heat, and I was hoping to come up with my own version that relies on aromatics more than on chilies. It’s definitely a layman’s interpretation of green curry paste, but it was tasty and made a wonderful sauce for striped bass tonight.

Green Curry Paste

Note: You can make this paste in a good processor, but you’ll have to double or triple the recipe depending on the size of your processor.

Makes 1/2 cup

1 serrano chiles, seeded and coarsely chopped (this will make a mild paste. If you like heat, by all means use more chiles)
2 inches ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp coarsely chopped shallots
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 lemongrass stalk, white part only, thinly sliced
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup packed cilantro leaves
1/4 cup packed mint leaves
2 kaffir lime leaves, chopped
2 tsp fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a 2 cup Pyrex measuring cup (or another tall container that can fit immersion blender snuggly) and blend until smooth. Use immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container.

For the striped bass, I sautéed some garlic, ginger, shallots, and ground coriander. Added a cup of water, kaffir lime leaves, a lemon grass stalk, juice of 1 lime, a little fish sauce and soy sauce. Brought to a boil, seasoned and served over seared striped bass with rice, mint, and cilantro leaves. It tasted as good as it looks :) I’ll post a detailed recipe soon.


MagicTofu said...

I find it weird that you don't like to use a mortar and pestle in the kitchen. I find mine invaluable when it is time to crush spices. I don't think I'll go as far as making curry in it but for spices, it is always siting on the counter, at hand, and do wonders for me in the kitchen. And guess what? In my case, it is a question of speed and ease of use rather than taste... all cooks are different i guess. That bass filet looks terific by the way.

Alanna Kellogg said...

I finally got a mortar & pestle a couple of weeks ago, it's still in the cupboard unused. But I use the food processor bowl on the immersion blender for just the reason you say -- smal quantities. Perfect for a thousand things. What an unexpected treat!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic idea! Gosh, I am so happy I found your blog this past week...

This is a tip made in heaven - I have a mortar and pestle and share the same hate for it as you do. I would not admit it until today, feeling a bit less of a cook for it... :-)

I will definitely put my imersion blender to a nice workout!

Thanks, and congrats on a great blog!

Darlaing said...

I swear by my "M&P." I've never used it for a paste before, but love giving dried herbs a quick little squashing before tossing them into the meal du juor. But I never thought of using my immersion blender for small quantites. . . I've scraped the inside of my food processer one too many times, so thanks for the "revolutionary" idea!

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting tip. I also don't like gadgets much unless they are worth cleaning and can do several things. I do use a mortar and pestle a little but I will remember your tip about the immersion blender and compare them someday (if I get one!)
Thanks for the recipe too.

Pyewacket said...

I hate the m&p, too. But I don't use my immersion blender for small stuff; I'll have to try that.