The molcajete and tejolote (mulcazitl and texoloti, in Nahualt) are what is known as the mortar and pestle tool used for grinding various food products. The use of the molcajete dates back several thousand years and was used by pre-Hispanic cultures including the Aztec and Maya. Traditionally carved out of a single block of volcanic rock, molcajetes are typically round in shape and supported by three short legs. Nowadays, molcajetes can also be found in different shapes carved with various animal heads. Sometimes you can find one in the shape of a bowl, using a pedestal base for support instead of legs. Tejolote is the matching hand-held grinding tool and it's also made of the same volcanic rock.
Molcajetes are used to grind chiles, nuts and spices, and to prepare salsas and guacamole. But a molcajete can also be used as a cooking tool by heating it in a very hot oven or over hot coals and then use it to heat food. It can also be use as a serving dish for hot food or chilled for salads and cold seafood dishes.
This ancestral tool makes the best flavored salsa. There is something about this rock that gives salsa a unique flavor. Molcajetes, some people say, much like cast iron skillets, carry over flavors from one preparation to another.
There are many recipes for chile de molcajete but my favorite is the one prepared by my brother-in-law, Juan. His recipe is featured in One Big Table, the book written by Molly O'Neill and it is also in Chile Frito, a small recipe book written by me. Now I'm sharing it here.
El Chile de Juan
(Recipe by Juan Siordia)
2 habanero chiles
3 lb. jalapeños
4 lb. güerito chiles (yellow Fresno chile)
2 lb. serrano chiles
1/2 lb. dried red peppers
10 lb. vine ripe tomatoes (Roma tomatoes work well for this salsa)
5 lb. tomatillo, with husks
1 head of garlic
1 can Mexican beer (Tecate or Corona go well with this)
salt to taste
On a cast iron griddle over the stove or an outdoor grill, roast all the vegetables a day ahead. Store in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, mash the peppers in a molcajete one at the time starting with the habanero and ending with the dried red peppers. Remove husk from tomatillos. Add the tomatoes and tomatillos to molcajete in between chiles. When the mixture starts thickening, add beer to the molcajete as needed.
If you have a small molcajete do this in batches. Transfer the salsa to a bowl. Mash the garlic and add to the bowl. Add salt to taste and more beer if needed. The salsa should have the consistency of a thick and chunky purée. Drink the left over beer.
Serves approximately 50 people!