On this episode of Special Sauce, I asked <a href="https://www.seriouseats.com/editors/daniel-gritzer">Daniel Gritzer</a>, our managing culinary director, to come on and talk about the work he's been doing recently, and about where he thinks the site is headed from a culinary point of view (I hope to have Daniel and other members of the culinary team on the podcast more regularly in the future). And just to spice it up a little, I had <a href="https://www.seriouseats.com/editors/j-kenji-lopez-alt">Kenji López-Alt</a>, on, too.
We spent a fair amount of time talking about a magical and ancient cooking implement: the mortar and pestle. Daniel has done a <a href="https://www.seriouseats.com/2018/08/best-mortars-and-pestles.html">lot of research into mortars and pestles</a>, and Kenji has frequently <a href="https://www.seriouseats.com/2016/07/quick-tip-faster-curry-paste-mortar-pestle-food-processor-test-best-flavor.html">extolled their virtues on the site</a>. (If you follow <a href="https://www.instagram.com/kenjilopezalt/?hl=en">Kenji on Instagram</a>, you'll have seen photos of Alicia, his adorable daughter, pounding away on her own mini mortar and pestle alongside her dad.)
The first thing I wanted to find out was what Daniel found so interesting about them. "It's a kitchen tool that we take for granted," Daniel said. "Mortars and pestles predate knives, right? Mortars and pestles go back to when we were still cutting things with chipped stone tools, they're that old."
Part of what Daniel was trying to figure out was whether his long-held suspicion that some of the mortars and pestles sold in kitchenware stores were just terrible at doing what they were supposed to. "I collected as many mortars and pestles as I could reasonably get my hands on," Daniel said, and he put them through their paces. "Making things like pesto, Thai chili pastes, grinding spices, mashing garlic to a paste." And he discovered, just as he suspected, that not all mortars and pestles are created equal. "This ceramic one that I picked up at a store that will not be named was just horrible, it didn't work for anything." Although Daniel did soften that criticism after noting that a reader had observed that it was a science lab mortar and pestle, one that's not intended for culinary purposes. "That thing is good if you're mashing up mouse brains to do some sort of experiment."
And a good mortar and pestle is necessary, according to both Daniel and Kenji, since it will lead to superior results. "If you taste a pesto mae in a mortar and pestle side by side with a pesto made in a food processor," Kenji observed, "it's a pretty significant difference." Kenji also noted that in his sequel to the Food Lab, which he's now writing, "there's an entire chapter on the mortar and pestle and what you can do with it." Kenji even claims he'd put it in his top five pieces of necessary kitchen equipment.
Once Kenji left the line I asked Daniel to reflect on the way he sees the culinary content on Serious Eats evolving in the future, and he had a typically thoughtful answer, but to hear him talk about that, you'll just have to listen. For now, suffice it to say that it was a pleasure to have Daniel Gritzer and Kenji López-Alt together again, if only on Special Sauce.