Metate y Mano

metatechoc2.jpg

History And Lore

According to Deann and Rick Bayless in their book Authentic Mexican : Regional Cooking, the metate was "The last of the techniques that set Mexican cooking apart is the grinding. It began millennia ago with corn crushed on a rock slab (metate) to make the dough for tortillas. The slab proved good for grinding hydrated. chills, for nuts and seeds, for cacao beans and even the tender curds of fresh cheese".

flat metate y mano
Mayan-style metate y mano - Picture by GourmetSleuth.com

Metate Styles

Aztec

aztec metate y mano
Aztec-style Picture by GourmetSleuth.com

The traditional Aztec metate was a slanted slab with three short legs, similar to the one pictured below.  This is the style of metate frequently found in Mexico.  Frequently the surface is more slanted than the one shown here.  The slant allows the user to work the ingredients downward into a bowl at the end of the metate.

Mayan

The Mayan version sits flat on the ground with a slightly indented top grinding surface (like the one shown at the top of this page).

Costa Rican Metate

costa rican metate
Costa Rican Metate Photographer: Unknown

This metate is similar to the Aztec version with three legs but quite a bit taller. The user would probably sit on a stool, rather than on the ground when grinding with this tool.

How To Season or Prepare Your Metate Before Use

  1. It is necessary to season the metate prior to use to avoid grit in your food.
  2. Submerse the metate and the mano in a basin of water and scrub with a stiff brush. Allow to air dry.
  3. Place a handful of uncooked rice on the metate. Use the mano and grind the rice into the surface of the metate. Discard the pulverized rice. Repeat the process until the pulverized rice is white, rather than gray or ash colored. This process will dislodge any bits of loose sand or stone.
  4. If you are using your metate for spice grinding follow this procedure.  If you are using your metate to grind corn then you should grind one batch of corn (prepared for pozole) but discard the batch.
  5. Place a mixture of 4 cloves of garlic (peeled), 1 teaspoon of cumin (comino) and 1 teaspoon salt, kosher is good, and a teaspoon of pepper on the top of the metate. Using the mano, grind the mixture evenly around the tope surface of the metate. Allow this mixture to remain on the metate overnight. Remove and discard the mixture. Rinse the metate and the mano with clear water and allow to dry before storing. Note that these ingredients and quantities can be adjusted to your liking and for the size of your metate. 

The Metate Today

Unfortunately metates are rarely used today and have been replaced in the home by hand corn grinders and electric blenders. Follow this link to read more about the metate, as well as other grinding implements such as the molcajete y tejolote (mortar and pestle).
 

How To Use A Metate

The metate should be seasoned prior to use (see above) using the same process used to season a molcajete.
To use this tool place the food to be ground in the center of the metate.  Roll the mano back and forth over the food to grind it to the desired consistency.

The picture below shows a woman making chocolate using a nice large metate.

woman making chocolate on a metate
Woman making chocolate using the traditional metate y mano. Photograph from: RCI Endless Vacation, March/April 2002. This is from an exhibit at the Field Museum, in Chicago, Illinois.
author

Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of GourmetSleuth.com she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.