If you love to cook, then chances are, you’ve fantasized—at least once—about having an enormous, extensively-stocked kitchen with every tool that a chef could ever need (or want). Some dishes are difficult, frustrating, or even impossible to make without the right equipment, and many others can be improved exponentially when certain utensils enter the fray. Tex-Mex cuisine is no exception to this.
So, for all of you home chefs out there: read on for some essential kitchen tools for taking your Tex-Mex cooking to the next level!
Tortilla Press (and Waxed Paper)
Could you just use your hands and a rolling pin to shape balls of masa into fresh, homemade tortillas? Probably. Should you do this? No, because you’d be selling yourself short! There’s nothing quite like a heavy, cast-iron tortilla press for flattening dough balls until they’re almost paper-thin and perfect for frying. You’ll also wind up with a uniform thickness on each piece, helping them all to cook evenly. And some folks even say that you can evaluate the consistency of your dough by seeing how it behaves once pressed: raw tortillas that crumple aren’t moist enough, and raw tortillas that stick to the waxed paper and tear when you try to peel them off are too moist. Tortilla presses may be “uni-taskers,” but that’s only because no other tool can do what they can do.
If you’ve seen a mortar and pestle, then you already have a vague idea of what a molcajete looks like: a small bowl for holding ingredients (like herbs, spices, or even fruit) paired with a hand-tool designed to grind or squash the bowl’s contents. Molcajetes are usually made out of volcanic rock or some other kind of stone, and they have a noticeably course texture. These tools aren’t new; archaeological records indicate that they’ve been around for thousands of years. And due to their porous nature, a molcajete will typically “carry over” flavors and aromas from previous food preparations, giving each dish a truly unique taste. Though they require a little more time and effort to use than a food processor, molcajetes work, and one will look great in your kitchen, too!
Wooden Spoons and Spatulas
We live in an era where kitchens are dominated by utensils made of plastic, rubber, and silicone. Thus, it’s easy enough to dismiss wooden utensils as “old-fashioned” and “dull.” But some recipes (including mole poblano) will actually call for the use of a wooden spoon or spatula, and it’s not just because the writer was feeling nostalgic. Wooden tools are non-reactive, meaning that there’s no danger of them imparting an odd (or metallic) taste when they touch acidic ingredients. They’re strong enough to stir thick mixtures but soft enough that they won’t scratch your cookware. And, of course, a wooden spoon won’t melt if it’s left on the cooktop or inside a pot. Wooden utensils are usually pretty cheap, so acquiring a few should not be too difficult for an aspiring Tex-Mex chef.
Clay Dishes and Vessels
Like the molcajetes we discussed earlier, clay pots and serving dishes have been around for several millennia. Earthenware vessels are still in use today because they have a few intriguing advantage over plastic and most kinds of metal. The first is their knack for absorbing and transferring heat. Clay vessels will warm up and then hold onto that heat for an extended period of time; some serving bowls will actually stay hot for the entire duration of a meal, meaning that everyone’s second helping of food will be just as warm and savory as the first. Clay vessels will cook food evenly, greatly reducing the risk of overcooked or burnt spots. And finally, their porous nature allows excess moisture to escape the dish and provides food with a distinct flavor profile. Overall, clay is a heavy, substantial material that enables chefs to really capture the “feeling” of Tex-Mex cooking!
Okay, maybe it’s a little dramatic to say that any of the above cooking tools are essential for Tex-Mex cooking. All of the items we just described have modern day-equivalents that can be a little easier to use or clean, and not everyone has the means (or desire) to stock their kitchen with tools of the trade. Rest assured: the police will not bust down your door and arrest you for pulverizing cumin in a coffee grinder or stirring gazpacho with a plastic spoon. But special tools really can bring a certain “wow factor” to your cooking, so they’re definitely worth checking out if you have the opportunity to do so.
At the end of the end of the day, Tex-Mex food is supposed to be comforting, fun, and festive. Cook with traditional tools, cook with modern utensils, or opt out of cooking and just order your dinner from a restaurant. However you choose to fill your belly is totally up to you!