Despite honing his craft in one of London’s most respected kitchens (River Cafe) and opening a number of restaurants himself (Jamie’s Italian, Fifteen, Barbecoa), British chef Jamie Oliver has long been an advocate of home cooking.
His cookbooks are stacked with recipes that are easy for cooks of all levels, and his Ministry of Food program armed more than 39,000 Australians with the practical skills and knowledge to prepare nourishing, inexpensive meals. So, what’s the one thing he reckons every home chef needs?
“I think first and foremost, get yourself a pestle and mortar,” Oliver tells Broadsheet. “It might sound a bit boring, but if you’re remotely taking yourself seriously as a cook, I think the pestle and mortar is the ultimate gadget.”
Oliver was recently in Australia to launch Jamie Cooks Italy, a book of recipes from two years he spent in Italy learning to cook with nonnas (while he was here he found time to visit a number of Sydney restaurants). Working alongside those seasoned home cooks he realised how important the tool is.
“You’ll never find a decent Italian kitchen without a mortar and pestle,” he says. “All the simple sauces and marinades that you can make in it are amazing. Just pounded up herbs, [mix in] olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch of salt. And you can use that [mixture] in so many different ways.”
But it’s also got another practical use.
“[You can even] use it as a weight when you’re cooking. If you look in the cookbook, there’s a really nice recipe for half a chicken in a marinade. When you cook it, you [need to flattened the bird], so you can use a pestle and mortar as a weight.”
Traditionally this technique is done using a brick, and Oliver says it has a similar effect.
“We’ve always cooked pollo al mattone, or ‘chicken under the brick’. The only difference is you would pre-heat the brick so it’s as hot as the grill. That way you apply pressure and get crispier skin; it helps it cook quicker and it’s just more delicious, really. I probably wouldn’t pre-heat my pestle and mortar though,” he says.
And Oliver says if you buy a mortar and pestle and you don’t end up using it, “you can use it as a door stop.”