Good knives are good to have, and sharp knives are essential. Dull knives are bad. It's been done to death. You should have at least one good knife, and don't take my opinion - go ahead and search for "Inside the Chef's Studio" and see what Jill Vedaa, Jonathon Sawyer, Larry McCarley, Michael Ruhlman, 99% Bittersweet and myself have to say about it (note to Michael Symon: we're here, anytime you're ready).
It occurred to me this morning as I was hand crushing peppercorns and allspice for a pork, rice and lentil porridge that my heavy, stone molcajete is also an important fixture in my kitchen.
I first heard the term molcajete from Rick Bayless on "Mexico: One Plate at a Time." The spelling belies a pre-Columbian origin, implying a history that spans millennia. When one thinks of classical, ancient Mexican recipes like "mole Poblano", one's mind eye envisions a Oaxacan grandmother stooped over a large pumice molcajete carefully grinding in spices, garlic, chocolate, peppers and the million other ingredients.
Bayless, of course, makes use of a molcajete frequently (or delegates the hard labor to his daughter Lanie, a precocious tween when the original series aired, now a college graduate - congratulations Ms Bayless).
Bayless grinds spices, crushes peppers, makes salsas. The molcajete is a endlessly useful tool. It is the proper vessel in which to mix your Caesar dressing (invented in a Mexican resort by an Italian chef) or aiolis.
(The only chef as enthusiastic about the molcajete, if not more, is perhaps lisping pretty-boy Chef Jamie Oliver, who loves to recite a string of light-hearted Cockney invective whilst crushing herbs and spices.)
I've adopted Oliver's aioli recipe below. You can mix the whole thing up in a large molcajete, otherwise crush the garlic, mustard, salt and black pepper in a small molcajete and them whisk the eggs and oil in a large stainless steel bowl.
If you have access to quail eggs, try making a quick aioli quartering the volumes below (1/4 cup instead of 1 cup and so on).
- 1/2 clove raw garlic.
- 4-5 cloves of slow-roasted garlic.
- 2 teaspoons of coarse sea salt.
- 1 very fresh egg yolk.
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorn.
- 3 teaspoons Lev's Original Hot Mustard (or any good whole-grain prepared mustard).
- 1 cup extra-vigin olive oil.
- 1 cup grape seed oil (never, ever, ever, ever use "vegetable", "Canola", or corn oil - all of these are GMO laden Franken-oils).
- Up to 1 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice.
If you have a large enough molcajete, mix the yolks, garlic, salt, mustard and peppercorns with the pestle. If not, just crush the garlic, mustard, pepper and salt. Transfer to a large stainless steel bowl to make the emulsion. You'd need a 4-cup or better capacity molcajete or to emulsify the whole thing with the pestle - but it's really quite lovely when done that way.
Once the pepper is sufficiently crushed, start slowly drizzling in oil until an emulsion is formed. Taste and adjust the acidity with fresh-squeeze lemon juice: you want a slightly tart emulsion. You can add the remaining oil somewhat more rapidly.
This should yield about 2 and a half cups of aioli which is fairly stable under refrigeration (weeks if not months).
Thanks to my Aunt for buying me my molcajete for my birthday several years ago.