Friday, February 14, 2014

Pounding and grinding

Shame on those horny birds on Valentine's Day.  This blog entry is strictly about the various ways to pound and grind ingredients, a question recently raised on FB by an old church friend, Celery Lim.

In my grandaunt's time, as she had described to me, potential mothers-in-law went searching for prospective  brides and judged their cooking proficiency by the pounding rhythm and fineness of their rempah spice paste.

My little daughter, a true Nonya from the very start.  Mothers-in-law will go crazy for her. 

Batu lesong 
The equipment of old was the batu lesong (mortar and pestle).  To this day, I believe that using a batu lesong produces a more refined spice paste.  There is a "more pronounced kick and tighter fusion of spices brought about by the pounding", as opposed to using the electric blender.   I am omitting the batu giling here, only because it is a super heavy stone slab one rarely finds, except perhaps in Little my friend Lynette and I once did and carted off in her car.   The slab came to NY but knocked the legs off my wooden kopitiam table across the Pacific Ocean.

As I had written in my cookbook, with a new mortar, my mother pounded dry grated coconut to absorb the grit tucked into the fine crevices of the new mortar.  Pounding the coconut also left a shine to the surface of the mortar and pestle.  A smooth surface was essential so that bits of the paste would not get stuck in the crevices.
A French mortar and pestle
The French use a daintier mortar and pestle, almost like a chemist's, in which they pounded their black pepper and bay leaves.

These days, new mortars come with smoothened surfaces but buyer beware, most are also made of a more inferior granite that is not held in the same regard by the older Nonyas.  So don't discard your grandmother's and use it as a decorative flower pot!

My Cuisinart food processor 

Obviously, the electric blender is more convenient and practical in this day and age.  The processor comes with shredder (good for fine strips of jicama for popiah) and the dough blade (my cop-out when making pastry dough).  With electric blenders, the cup size should not be too big.  Otherwise, the ingredients will jump about and thus make it harder to produce a fine paste.  I purchased a hard-core processor with a smaller cup attachment.

The good old coffee grinder

 It is also worthwhile to keep a coffee grinder to refine hard spices such as cinnamon, cassia bark, nutmeg, star anise or cloves.  Some of these ingredients are essential for bumbu kueh, the cake spice blend needed to bake the delectable Kueh Lapis.  

A stick/ immersion blend

I am also a fan of the stick or immersion blender although it is more relevant for Western cooking.  In particular, for pureeing Vichyssoise or mushroom soup within the pot itself.  However, the stick blender comes in handy to make that small batch of spice paste when you fit all the ingredients in that little container that comes with the blender.

When pounding or grinding, stop periodically and use a spatula or spoon to press down the paste, and then resume the process.  Sometimes, with a blender, a few spoonfuls of water could 'lubricate' the blending process to produce the desired fine paste.  That said, happy pounding and grinding!


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