Monday, January 4, 2010

Essential Equipment for the Mexican Cook (and what to use as a substitute)


A comal is either a thin metal or unglazed ceramic tray, used to cook tortillas or toast ingredients like chiles, tomatoes etc. A flat cast iron pan is a suitable replacement.


This is the Mexican mortar and pestle used frequently to make sauces, guacamole and the like. Molcajetes tend not to have a very smooth surface and require a little preparation, but are well worth it. Very handy for freshly grinding spices and creating wonderfully textured sauces.


The cazuela is a slow coking pot used for birria, cochinita pibil and braises in general. Traditionally they are a glazed clay or terracotta, but heavy based casseroles that apply good even heat can be used. A French oven like Le Creuset is a good substitute.

Tortilla Press
If you are going to make your own tortillas, there are two options: by hand or by press. Many varieties are available, and the heavy duty square presses are the best, though the easiest to find are the cast aluminium. Sheets of plastic cut from plastic bags are used to ensure the tortilla is easily removed. As the plastic is flexible, it tends to work even better than silicon paper.

Tamale Steamer
A purpose made tamale steamer is wonderful, but a good old vegetable steamer will do the job as well. Anything that you can fashion to keep the tamales elevated (above a decent amount of simmering water) will work just fine. A perforated tray that fits inside your favourite pot is suitable, just put a few ramekins or other heat resistant items in to prop up the tray.

The blender is a pretty standard piece of equipment in most kitchen, though rarely would it see this much use. From sauces to pastes, moles to fruit juice, the liquadora rarely gets a rest. Such is the case that most Mexican cookbooks recommend having two jugs, just as a baker might have two mixing bowls. The only substitute for the blender is a knife, a molcajete and a lot of hard work.

This is the first in a series on the basics of Mexican cooking.


  1. The molcajete is the pre-Columbian mortar; its pestle is the tejolote. Both are made from rough volcanic rock, usually basalt scoria. Not the most hygienic of surfaces. Although the molcajete and tejolote are still found in traditional markets, the modern Mexican kitchen has shifted over to electric blenders. Prep is now ever so much faster but that characteristic chunkiness you mention has become elusive, now a matter of how deft one's finger is with the Pulse button.

  2. Agreed. When we bought a couple of things for our house in Oaxaca, the first was a blender. I don't regard myself as lazy, but limonada made in a Molcajete is a bit too much, verdad?

  3. Lazy? We're talking about one of the classic peon cuisines here – up until a generation or two ago, Mexican food was something your servants made at your behest, usually using your grandmother's recipes if not theirs. Mexican cuisine is incredibly labor-intensive.

    Ever since Carlos Salinas de Gortari (that creepy little immigrant to Ireland), Mexican cuisine has been more a matter of every housewife for herself because no one can afford a cook anymore. Nowadays we buy our food already made from the local supermarkets or else we use commercial "simmering sauces" from companies like Knorr. O tempora, o mores.

    The farther one goes from the source of a cuisine, the more one must create it from scratch. Doing Thai food here in Tijuana is very funny, since our source of holy basil is north of our border; doing Mexican food in Australia must be even more amusing what with all that water around you. Do you even have epazote in your part of the world?

    While I do mean to be flippant, I don't mean to be discourteous. (And, if you ask nicely, I might even send you epazote seeds.) Regional cuisines are regional for a reason. Mexican food in San Diego sucks because it doesn't travel well – so how must it taste even farther from our borders?

    Why, the very idea that Australia might want to recreate Mexican cuisine – let's help those folks! So our first tip will be that you not buy molcajetes and tejolotes made of pumice. Friable rock not only means that the molcajete will wear down quickly, it also means you'll be eating rock dust in your salsas. Better to stick with basalt or … well … now you know why we're so fond of electric blenders.

  4. for those like me who have no idea what epazote is try this

  5. Looking at a recipe book i have here (which i shall decline to name) written by an american in the 90's, knorr brand chicken stock is a cited important ingredient. Strangely, the book is quite good otherwise.

    My hope is, as we enter an age where products that little resemble their supposed origins are seen as things to avoid, we will have a better chance of making good of Mexican cuisine. Whereas The States have a very strong idea of what Mexican is supposed to be, it remains a mystery in Australia so we can indeed, build it from scratch.

    Thank you for your offer of epazote seeds. At the moment i buy it fresh at the tianguis near my place in Oaxaca. Might need your help when I get home though...and as for pumice, I heard it cleans your teeth?

  6. Looks amazing!!!! /I look forward to your feedback /thanks for this man it was very helpful.

    Cooking Equipment

  7. Excellent view!Great Article.This is possible only when we have a good quality kitchen cabinets.

    Cooking Equipment

  8. Did you tried it before.. Do not throw away unused chillies in vinegar while making a chinese course. Blend, bottle and use to spice up soups, rices, etc.Wipe mirrors first with pieces of moist newspaper and then with dry newpaper toget a clean, spotless mirror. Used Kitchen Equipment