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.
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.
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.