The Essential Thai Kitchen Tool: A Granite Mortar and Pestle

Ask a Thai chef what tool she values most and prepare for an ode to the granite mortar and pestle. When it comes to making a paste of lemongrass or crushing chiles for curry, this Stone Age appliance has no modern rival. Pull out your food processor if speed is what you’re after, but to make dishes with the intensity and nuance of traditional Thai cuisine, nothing beats a couple of rocks.

The steady rhythm of a pestle incorporates far less air into a paste than a whirling metal blade. Granite also doesn’t heat up the way a food processor can. By crushing rather than cutting ingredients, the stones release the ingredients’ aromatic oils without agitating the harsh sulfur molecules that can give foods like onions and garlic an acrid flavor. An herb sauce pounded by hand will be denser and have more character than one made with a machine. 

The best granite mortars and pestles, carved from a single piece of rock, are very difficult to chip or crack. They’re a good value too. A standard seven-inch version with a two-cup capacity can be less than forty dollars and will last for decades.