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need mortar and pestle education

i've got a couple of mortar and pestles. i just tried to use the wooden one (pretty sure it's olive wood) and realized it might just be for show - pretty shallow, very wide, and seemed difficult to grind cardamom seeds to powder without them flying around. I'm just wondering - i know there are many different materials for mortar and pestles - are some better for other things than others? i have a marble one and i used it for garlic paste once... now it is forever garlic-tinged. i would like to be able to have a good small pestle to grind dry spices. I also notice a difference in the design of the pestle heads - perhaps that makes a difference as well? (maybe the ones i have need to be replaced)

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  1. Granite is a denser stone and won't take up odors and oils like Marble will. With its frosted finish, things don't fly around like the polished surfaces do. The lab grade ceramic models are also an option except the ones I see are slick smooth surfaces.

    For me, Granite mortars and pestles from Thailand are an easy choice.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Sid Post

      +1 on the Thai granite M&P suggestion. I think I paid $30 for mine, and it's both very large and very powerful -- easily turns hard spices into very fine powder.

      The only tricky part is cleaning it. It is quite heavy and once while cleaning it slipped out of my hands and put a huge dent in my stainless sink. Now I make sure any soap is totally rinsed off before I lift it back out of the sink.

      I also own a smaller marble one, which I thought I'd use for small amounts of spices, but I don't bother with it anymore. It's so inefficient as compared with the Thai M&P that there is no point -- I can grind, clean, and dry the big one in the time it takes to do a rather shoddy job with the small one.

      1. re: Sid Post

        Another vote for granite! I've had mine for 30 years and still use it instead of a blender or food processor for small jobs. I've pounded everything imaginable in it - garlic, chili, meat, and nuts. Because it's so dense it cleans easily and doesn't retain odors. Whenever I pound something strong like garlic or chili I wipe it, rub with some kosher salt, wash and it's ready for the next job. Yes, it's heavy; but that shouldn't deter anyone. You can find them in any Southeast Asian market. I agree with the poster who said to get one with a 6" or larger opening. As a last point, they look cool on the countertop.

        1. re: wolfde

          so i read through all the answers, and looked online... thought i'd have to go on a trek to the city for a mortar and pestle... then i had to go to my local asian store and, sure enough, there were 3 sizes of thai granite stones! very happy!! THANKS EVERYONE!

      2. I have a lab grade glass one. It works alright. It is very smooth as Sid Post noted. That makes for easy cleaning and difficult grinding sometimes. I would like to get a rougher one, too. Mine is not very big: I grind larger amounts in an electric grinder.

        1. The Japanese version, called suribachi (http://www.surlatable.com/product/PRO...) is far better for grinding spices. The bowl is ridged, and allows for much more effective work on any spices/grains. I link to one example from WS, but there are many others, and they're not expensive.

          1 Reply
          1. re: strangemd

            I have one of these. Good for grinding spices. Not so good for wetter ingredients or larger quantities (it was a horrible failure when it came to Thai curry paste).

          2. Lao versions are made of clay, with a wooden pestle. They are taller and hold a higher volume, as we tend to use them for everything from making sauces to green papaya salad. My gram taught me that the trick to keeping garlic, peppers, and other spices from flying around is to always pound them with a little salt.

            3 Replies
            1. re: sarinaL

              The salt trick is good advice. Coarse salt is also helpful when mincing garlic on the countertop.

              1. re: Bada Bing

                I've never needed salt to help me mince garlic, but pasting it on the countertop (board) is benefited by the addition of salt.

                1. re: JayL

                  Yeah, I meant that I generally combine the actions of mincing and mashing.

            2. a scrub and 2-3 minute soak with vinegar will take care of the garlic smell (and just about any other odor). Careful not to leave it soaking for long though.
              It takes a long time to do, but the original all-i-oli (garlic and oil, literally) was/is traditionally made in a wooden mortar and pestle. Just crush the garlic with a little salt and slowly add oil, as for mayonnaise. It will all emulsify after about 30-45 minutes of pounding.

              1. I have several types but my go-to one is Thai granite. The relative coarseness of the stone is really effective.

                And I recommend getting as big a version as you can handle (preferably at LEAST 6" across at the top, measured from the interior wall--such a size has about an 8"-9" outside diameter and will weigh circa 15 pounds, not counting granite pestle).

                Your profile says you're in Northern CA. In San Fran and maybe even in Marin you might find a Viet or Thai grocer, where the prices are best--and of course, these beasts are a mail-order hassle.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Bada Bing

                  Do you know of any Bay Area stores specifically to look for one of these in? Is it a dark or a light stone, and how can you tell if it's specifically Thai?

                  (Thank you! Been really wanting one & have been too intimidated by the stories of porous Mexican pumice ones from a discussion on here from years ago.)

                  1. re: subgirl

                    I haven't lived in the Bay Area for many years, but I do know the SF Chinatown Wok Shop to be an excellent source. Now, the Chinese don't use mortars as intensively as the Thai/Viet folks. This seems to be the largest mortar they have on their website:

                    http://wokshop.stores.yahoo.net/chstm...

                    But call the owner Tane Chan with your need, and she'll point you to what's best for your needs. Tell her you want a large Thai granite mortar and pestle, not smoothed out entirely.

                    She has more to sell than is on her website, and will know purveyors who have what she doesn't, I bet. She is GREAT!

                    1. re: Bada Bing

                      Ah thank you! I actually went the ultimately laaaaazy, too easy way and ordered off amazon. The one I got says it's a Thai stone, though is a bit lighter than what I'm seeing on that page. It was cheap and as we're total mortar & pestle newbies in my house I figured it was a good test case to see if it got use and if it did and we were ultimately frustrated with it's size (got a 2 cup one) or texture, then we could upgrade in the future.

                      I am really impressed with the stuff at the link though and will definitely keep the contact for future reference. I see several things right off I am in the market for!

                      Thanks!

                    2. re: subgirl

                      I haven't lived in the Bay Area for many years, but I do know the SF CHinatown Wok Shop to be an excellent source. Now, the Chinese don't use mortars as intensively as the Thai/Viet folks. This seems to be the largest mortar they have on their website:

                      http://wokshop.stores.yahoo.net/chstm...

                      But cal the owner Tane Chan with your need, and she'll point you to what's best for your needs. Tell her you want a large Thai granite mortar and pestle, not smoothed out entirely.

                      She has more to sell than is on her website, and will know purveyors who have what she doesn't, I bet. She is GREAT!

                  2. This one has been my hands down favorite since the seventies. The finish is slightly rough. It says on the bottom "warranted acid proof, made in England." I've never used it on acid. Must be a seventies thing.

                     
                    4 Replies
                    1. re: tim irvine

                      wow! that's a beauty! wish i could find one

                      1. re: rmarisco

                        Tim Irvine's mortar and pestle looks very similar to the Milton Brook Range, made in England, which is available in several sizes on Amazon and at Williams-Sonoma (in one or two sizes):

                        http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001...

                        1. re: souvenir

                          I have a Milton Brook and it's great.

                      2. re: tim irvine

                        I have this one as well....It rocks!!

                        Never knew is was Milton Brook. Just says made in England and acid proof on the bottom.

                      3. Importfood.com has a good selection of high quality Thai granite mortar and pestles