Pound It

For better flavors, give it a grind

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Admittedly, we can be suckers for shiny gadgets.

But we also recognize the value of old-fashioned methods.

To wit, the mortar and pestle is one of the oldest tools in culinary history, and what's worked in the past still works now: Put in a bit of elbow grease and the most flavorful and fragrant ground spices, pestos and aiolis emerge.

The heft of a rustic molcajete will tackle most any ingredient with ease. But take the instrument one step further by using it as cookware, as they do at New York City's Toloache. After grinding chiles de árbol and other spices, chef Julian Medina adds seafood and puts the entire vessel in the oven to create a rich, spicy seafood stew.

Or opt for a mortar and pestle with a contemporary feel. Several design-centric models are available, so the storied instrument won't look out of place with your sleek cooking 'bots:

Alessi: Lauded designer Eero Aarnio created this rounded version, which features an ergonomically shaped pestle (click here to pre-order).

Kai: The inside of this dainty porcelain bowl is etched with ridges to help crush any ingredients, from garlic cloves to basil leaves (click here to buy).

Joseph Joseph: For the frequent cook, this orb has two mortars with different bowl sizes: The larger one comes in handy when you're cooking for a large group (click here to buy).