Molcajetes are traditional Mexican kitchen tools used for grinding, crushing, and mixing ingredients. It’s sort of like a mortar and pestle, but the surface is rougher. Finer surfaces are better for grinding spices since you want to keep all of the dust and fine grains, but the porous nature of a molcajete builds seasoning over time that adds flavor to whatever food you make.
There are all sorts of wonderfully delicious things you can make and serve with a molcajete. Vamos!
Molcajete recipe tips
Before we go to specifics, here are a few short tips on how to make the most of your molcajete recipes:
- Make as much salsa as you can when tomatoes are in season.
- Char or grill your bell peppers, poblanos, and/or jalapenos for extra flavor.
- Fresh lime juice and herbs are best.
- To add extra smokiness to your red salsas, soak and add some dried chilis like Guajillos from an international market.
- Mix your salsa in batches if you need to.
- Use neutral oil or lard instead of olive for the most traditional flavor.
- If you’re going to use olive oil, use high-quality extra virgin.
- Pick up some Mexican sour cream instead of regular if your recipe calls for it.
- Similarly, don’t sub mozzarella for panela or queso fresco if you want the real deal.
- Don’t forget to put a heat pad under your hot molcajete when serving.
- Most of the secret to good guacamole is picking great ingredients that are perfectly ripe.
- Always salt to taste!
12 amazing molcajete recipes
Outside of sauces and guacamoles, it is popular to heat up a molcajete and serve dishes inside of it — sort of like a cast iron. Here are some amazing ways to enjoy your molcajete, from sauce to molcajete mixto.
Shrimp cooked in garlic and butter paired with a tangy tomatillo salsa? And then topped with creamy avocado and queso fresco? This recipe from TableSpoon is an awesome choice to start with your molcajete.
Alton Brown is a legend for good reason, and his guacamole recipe from Food Network is a classic. It’s going to be hard to let it rest for an hour before digging in, but do your best! This allows the flavors to sit with each other and deepen a bit.
Good salsa is all about depth. How many ways can you amplify the flavors of just a few simple ingredients? This recipe from Mexico in My Kitchen is the perfect starter molcajete recipe and shows you a few of the best tricks in the book.
Feeling something a bit brighter? Use this salsa verde recipe from Mama Latina Tips. It’s just five ingredients, and buy the highest quality and freshest ingredients you can for the best results.
For a beautiful walkthrough and a deeper explanation of how to use a molcajete, try this recipe from Savor the Best. Like any good guacamole recipe should be, it’s just a few simple but tasty ingredients.
Mixto is exactly what you’d expect — a mix of delicious proteins in a warm molcajete. This recipe from Kiwilimon uses panela cheese, chicken breast, beef rib, chorizo, pinto beans, and a good seasoning blend to build something amazing!
For a different spin, try this paneer with molcajete salsa from Masala Mexicana. Their team does a beautiful job combining Mexican and Indian cuisine, with turmeric, paneer, garam masala, and ghee bringing the Indian edge.
After big parties in Mexico, it’s common to serve up a big hot bowl of seafood soup. Hangover or not, this soup from Mexico in My Kitchen is a great foundation. You can mix and match almost any fish or seafood in this recipe, and don’t skimp on getting good tortillas!
Feeling something closer to fajitas? Beef Loving Texans has your back. This recipe is for the grillers, but if you don’t have one you can always use the oven. Don’t forget to slice the flank steak thinly, use a marinade, and slice across the grain. That meat can be tough without the right execution.
Here’s one more shrimp option for you from Mole Mama. This one uses mango, avocados, habaneros, and purple onion to place it firmly in the fish taco space. You can use fewer habaneros if you don’t want it to be as spicy.
Good carne asada is all about the details, and mashing up charred garlic in a molcajete is part of the magic. Use this recipe from Stella n’ Spice and some grass-finished skirt steak for the best results.
Tomatillos can be a bit sharp, but roasting them is a great way to cut that acidity a bit while adding depth. Try this simple but delicious recipe from Marisol Cooks and expand your molcajete salsa repertoire! The more salsa you make, the faster you’ll develop your own recipes!
Have a question about molcajetes? Here are a few of the ones people ask the most:
What makes an authentic molcajete?
True molcajetes are made from volcanic rock. Many brands sell molcajetes made from concrete or a mixture of volcanic rock and cement. Your molcajete should not be smooth in the bottom of the bowl, and you shouldn’t be able to scratch it with a coin.
Why use a molcajete?
It’s all about flavor and texture. The rough surface creates uneven textures that build on each other, and when you grind instead of cut you release more flavors and oils. Molcajetes also retain flavors and oils over time like a seasoned pan.
Can you put oil in molcajete?
Of course! Molcajetes are amazing at carrying and imbuing foods with flavors from previous salsas. You may want to avoid putting coconut oil or sesame since those oils are so strong, but yes! Use oil!
How do you clean a molcajete?
All you need to do is hand wash it with hot water and let it air dry. Soap can get stuck in the basalt’s grooves, so it’s best to just use water and wash it shortly after use.
What food is served in a molcajete?
Guacamole, salsa, or anything you’d like to keep warm! People usually make fresh salsas and keep them in the molcajete or warm the molcajete up and use it as a serving dish. This is a beautiful and fun way to serve up a shareable meal.
Does a molcajete need to be seasoned?
They need to be cured at the beginning, but the seasoning will happen naturally as you make things in it. Here’s a guide showing you how to cure it.
What can I do with a brand new molcajete?
You should cure it first, which takes a few minutes of work, and then let it rest for 24 hours. After that, you’re good to cook whatever you’d like.
Why is guacamole made in a molcajete?
Making guacamole in a molcajete allows you to pulverize cell walls instead of slicing them on a molecular level. This means more oils and delicious flavors in your guacamole! Plus molcajetes retain seasoning over time and can impart more depth into your salsas and sauces.
The bottom line on molcajetes
Molcajetes are similar to mortar and pestles but coarser and are staples in Mexican kitchens. Pick a high-quality one up and watch as it makes your salsas and food more delicious for decades to come. Whether you’re serving warm soup in a molcajete or making fresh salsa, you will love it!
How restaurants make molcajete recipes taste so good
At the beginning of my cooking journey, I didn’t understand how much sourcing played into my favorite culinary experiences. Choosing good ingredients, either in season or from the best sources possible, can elevate good cooking to great cooking.
Dreaming of that seafood or beef strip molcajete you had? Pick up some grass-fed and grass-finished meat before jumping into things. It makes all the difference.
Nathan Phelps owns and writes for Crafted Copy, a boutique copywriting shop that finds the perfect words for interesting products. He is also an ethical foodie, outdoors-aficionado, and hails from Nashville, TN. He splits his time between helping sustainable businesses find new customers and managing his ever-increasing list of hobbies, which include playing guitar, baking bread, and creating board games.