Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Old Chengku (Batu Lesong) has joined Celebrity Chefs
To think of my mother’s kitchen is to remember the ever present sight of the grey granite mortar with its heavy pestle sitting in the corner of the kitchen floor, waiting faithfully to pound the mounds of fresh or rehydrated chillies, ginger, fresh turmeric, galangal, shallot and garlic on a daily basis.
Long before it was used by many Western celebrity chefs and featured prominently on a modern kitchen bench, the granite mortar and pestles have been used by generations in Singapore and its neighboring countries to make curry pastes and to grind produce and spices. It was the original food grinder used by our parents and their generations before. Many older Singaporeans would steadfastly defend that the fine flavors produced from foods ground in a granite mortar and pestle are far superior to the flavors of foods ground in a metal-bladed blender. Although, it is an indispensible kitchen tool to prepare a good chilli sambal, it is still an ancient skill to be acquired; the end result very much depends on the user as the grinding time and pressure of the pestle has be adjusted accordingly during the process. The true quality of a Nonya family’s meal depended on the hand grinding skill on its sambal paste, hence the old Nonya saying “one can judge a new daughter-in-law’s cooking skill by tasting her sambal.”
In order to keep the flavour of the food pure and provide years of service in the household kitchen, a properly cleaned granite mortar and pestle has to be maintained. Granite is especially prone to staining when exposed to acidic and oily foods.
Simply rinse the mortar and pestle in warm water immediately after use and clean it with an abrasive dish sponge to remove any stubborn food residue left behind. Rinse again and dry the mortar and pestle with a clean cloth before putting away.