The first time I moved overseas, I left my Great Aunt’s cast iron skillet in storage (shameful!), but brought my comal. My college roommate’s Hispanic family introduced me to the comal, a flat cast iron pan, in which to heat tortillas on. (Please white people, stop microwaving your tortillas right now! Those chewy things have no contest on a nicely warmed tortilla from the comal). I bought it in San Antonio before we headed to the Netherlands. We hosted a number of Tex-Mex nights for the expats I’d met. Using the comal, I made perfect quesadillas for my kids and heated tortillas to accompany homemade fajitas for the adults.
Upon learning we were returning to Europe – I decided I’d expand my Mexican kitchen utensil collection while I had a chance. We headed into the Mercado in San Antonio where I picked up a new pair of cowboy boots and a molcajete. I announced my purchase with pride to my roommate’s aunt, who smiled, but raised an eyebrow.
“That’s good, mija. But do you know how to cure it?” a mischievous smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.
I blinked, “Cure it?” and I shrugged. “I’ll Google it,” and she laughed.
As I unpacked the malcajete in my Belgian kitchen, I eye it with suspicion. I am supposed to make food in this thing, but it’s made from volcanic rock, It’s all dusty and dirty. Hum.
Well. . . it took days, mis amigos. Days. But by the time I finished curing it, those rock-hard avocados I bought at the Belgian grocery store were ripe and ready to go, anyway.
To cure a molcajete:
- Rinse the molcajete to get the excess dust and dirt off of it. (Never use soap on your molcajete – the bowl is porous and you don’t want your food tasting like soap!)
- Soak the molcajete overnight in a bowl or tub of water.
- Let the molcajete dry.
- Take a small handful of rice and (use the cheap stuff, you’re gonna need a lot of it) and put it in the bottom of the bowl
- Grind the rice until it becomes a gritty, grey paste. Put some muscle into it!
- Rinse the molcajete.
- Repeat steps 3-6 about 20 times. Yup. That’s right. Until the rice isn’t grey anymore. I did this over a series of days. Clean breakfast dishes, clean molcajete. Afternoon snack? Clean molcajete. Dinner prep? Clean molcajete. Fill kids glasses of water before bed? Clean molcajete. I’m in the kitchen a lot. (Note: I’ve read you can speed this process using a wire brush to scrub (probably not a bad idea). Or even a power washer (but my goodness, that seems so violent.)
- Once the molcajete is clean, create a paste using rock salt, cumin seeds, and garlic cloves. Let this sit overnight so the molcajete can absorb the flavors and rinse in the morning.
- Try making your well-deserved first batch of guacamole in your authentic molcajete!