Got the hots for Mexican food? Of course! What respectable San Diegan wouldn’t? You likely have your favorite taco joints like Las Cuatro Milpas or El Indio. Or you seek out the most sublime version of guacamole — perhaps Galaxy Taco’s or Puesto’s. You may even make traditional Mexican dishes at home — certainly salsa or ceviche; if you’re ambitious, tamales or enchiladas or pozole. But do you have the right tools for the job?
I got to thinking about this during a conversation with San Diego chef Sara Polczynski. She’s been a longtime culinary educator, working as an associate professor for the Baking and Culinary Arts programs at San Diego Community College’s Continuing Education. Her passion for Mexican food started with a culinary tour of Mexico several years ago with Rick Bayless. This trip turned her career around. Notably, she took a position as consultant executive chef with The Blind Burro in East Village. Over the years, Polczynski has continued to travel regularly to Mexico — and a journey last year to Oaxaca again changed her life. There she met chef Susana Trilling of Seasons of My Heart. Trilling, an American who has lived in Oaxaca since 1988 and owns a cooking school of the same name, led a 10-day culinary extravaganza marking Day of the Dead that Polczynski joined. The two chefs stayed in touch, and, after a series of conversations, Polczynski decided to launch her own online culinary import business, Sabor Imports (www.saborimports.com), which sells Trilling’s artisan handcrafted moles, pepper jellies, sea salt and chocolate.
While chatting about the products, it occurred to us that a lot of people on our side of the border don’t have or know how to use some of the kitchen tools that are so commonplace in Mexican kitchens. The ones that immediately stood out to us were the molinillo, the comal and the molcajete. Each is available at local Mexican markets, in Tijuana, or online. And they’re very affordable.
The molinillo is a clever gadget used to create a rich, frothy pot of traditional Mexican hot chocolate. You’ve probably seen these wooden stirrers; about 13 inches long, they have a long, slender handle and a flat tip with holes at the bottom that functions like a pestle to grind and soften the chocolate in the hot water or milk. In between are loose rings that whip air into the hot chocolate to create the froth.
“They’re made on a lathe from one piece of wood,” Polczynski explained. “The black design you see on them is burned on, not painted.”
To make traditional Mexican hot chocolate, you bring milk and chocolate just to the boil and remove from the stove. Then, Polczynski showed me, you place the molinillo in the pot and roll the stem between your palms vigorously to get whisking movement and create foam.
“There’s an old wive’s tale that a good woman is judged by her foam,” Polczynski said. “The more foam you can make, the better…