The Tools

The Food Mill

One might think of a food mill as the manual equivalent of a food processor. Called pasapurés in Spanish, the food mill is a utensil I personally find indispensable in my kitchen. I consider it to be somewhere in between a sieve and a food processor. Like the food processor, the final product is a smooth cream or broth (depending on the ingredients you pressed through), but unlike the food processor, the food mill will hold every seed, peel and otherwise solid particle larger than the holes on its base plate, acting in this case more like a sieve.

Basically, a food mill consists of three parts: the base plate, the bowl, and the crank. The base plate is perforated in its entirety, like a sieve or colander. Some food mills have interchangeable plates with different hole sizes, depending on the desired consistency of the final product. The crank, which is screwed in place though the center of the bowl and base plate, holding them together, is fitted with a metal blade placed at an angle. This blade forces the food through the holes in the base plate as the crank is turned. The bowl usually has three feet at its base, to fit on the edges of the pot where the puréed food will be collected.

Food mill with interchangeable plates

Food mill with interchangeable plates

 

The food mill is used to purée soft foods like steamed vegetables, but more often than not, I use it in the preparation of seafood stock. Not only I can separate the tiny pieces of shrimp shells and fish bones from the broth, but the pressing of such said ingredients extracts all their goodness and deep flavor. I also use it for gazpacho, when I’m too lazy to peel the tomatoes before blending them. The uses of a food mill are many, and I’m sure you’ll find many more.

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The Paella Pan

I’ve dedicated a whole section to the paella pan in this blog, you can find it under the FUNDAMENTALS tab on the menu. So enough said about the paella pan! Click on this link to learn the ins and outs about one of the most iconic utensils in the Spanish kitchen.

Here are some more pictures, for good measure.

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Choosing a paella at Mercado Central

Stainless steel paellas

Stainless steel paellas

Carbon steel paella

Carbon steel paella

Enameled paellas

 

 

The Mortar and Pestle

I like mortars so much that I own a few of them, in various materials. Mortars are used to mash and grind (garlic, spices, saffron, nuts, parsley…), and although you can use other contraptions, I find that using a mortar and a pestle give me more control over the final texture I want to achieve.

The mortar is a bowl, typically made of stone, marble, hard wood, ceramic or bronze, all strong materials that will not break or become brittle during the pounding and grinding process. The pestle is a somewhat heavy mallet, the end of which, usually rounded, is used for crushing, mashing or grinding the ingredients.

I grew up in a kitchen with a marble mortar, as well as a yellow and green ceramic one (this one can be found in most Spanish kitchens), and although they’re my favorite to use, I love the look of the black stone ones, which I use mostly to grind nuts.

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The Cazuela

Cazuelas are glazed earthenware casseroles, usually brown to dark orange in color, that can withstand high heat temperatures and therefore be used both in the oven and on the stove top. However, they should be soaked in water for a day or so before their first use on the stove top, and when cooking, increase the heat gradually, to avoid cracking caused by sudden changes in heat level.

Like paella pans, cazuelas come in many sizes, from a few inches wide to hold individual portions of, say, crema catalana (Catalan custard) to large ones to make arroz al horno (baked rice) for a whole family. In fact, many rice dishes are cooked in a 10 to 15 inches wide cazuela.

Cazuelas are relatively inexpensive, but if you decide not to purchase one, you can substitute with another earthenware heatproof casserole, or a cast-iron skillet.

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The Churro Maker

Churros are to the Spanish breakfast what pancakes are to the American one —or at least, that’s how I like to think of them. A special breakfast, also eaten as an afternoon snack, sprinkled with sugar or maybe dipped in hot chocolate. To make churros you will need a churro maker. Called manga churrera in Spanish, it resembles a cookie press, or a pastry bag fitted with a large star nozzle.

The churro makers used in households are, for the most part, manual, as opposed to the ones used in cafés or churro trucks in Spain, which are fully automated. The churro maker I use is composed of two parts, the bag, made of plastic or fabric, and the star-shaped nozzle, held to the bag by a twistable ring. The nozzle forms the dough into the shape of a churro, and the pressure applied to the dough inside of the bag ensures that the churros will not break down when they’re being fried.

Churros are simple in terms of the ingredients necessary in their elaboration, but just as it’s the case with cake decorating, forming the churros relies on the cook’s skill with the manga churrera —the more often you make them, the nicer looking the churros will turn out.

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Questions? Comments?