Oh, to be a guac'd-up avocado perched on a corn chip: smooth as butter, green as '70s Formica, rich as Bill Gates, and welcome at parties everywhere.
Avocados might be the incarnation of manna. They melt in your mouth with a creamy fattiness like toro (tuna), and they're nutritious. Avocados also are like a culinary blank canvas. It's less about the avocado and more about the flavors and textures we add, layer upon layer, that makes or breaks a guacamole recipe.
For Cinco de Mayo, if you mash it, they will come . . .
The process of making good guacamole is similar to adding Heath Bars to ice cream: You mash a little and smear a little until you've blended to perfection. I like to use a potato masher for a good ratio of lumpy to creamy.
Perfection is subjective, and one person's picante is someone else's pique. Still, there are two things that every guacamole recipe needs: the first is salt and the second is some sort of acid. The salt brings out the flavor in the avocado, and the acid adds dimension and cuts the fattiness. The acid also impedes browning that occurs when oxygen comes into contact with a cut-open avocado. (Sorry, the pit doesn't voodoo away the brown.) You also need ripe avocados. If yours are a bit firm place them in a covered bowl with a few apples for a day or two. The apples give off ethylene gas, which hastens ripening.
Among the ingredients that make for great guacamole: diced peppers (of varying color and heat), onion, garlic, crumbled cotija or queso seco cheese, pepitas or pine nuts, and pomegranate seeds (used at Barrio Café).
Adding a few membrane-free grapefruit segments, a clove of garlic, and maybe a teaspoon or two of minced onion to the avocado is my favorite basic guacamole recipe. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
For a guacamole that sits nicely on a plate with grilled meat or chicken, I like to sauté onions until they're sweet and golden. I add the slightly cooled onions and a few dashes of Tabasco (for heat and acid) to the avocados and mash away.
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My most popular guacamole recipe is one I've been using since before I went to culinary school. I first made the recipe when I tried to re-create the guacamole I'd tasted in a long-gone restaurant. It had something cheesy among its ingredients, but I didn't know what. I tried to make it a number of times with all sorts of additions -- with no luck. One day, chevre (goat cheese) and avocados were side-by-side in my fridge, so I decided to blend the two. The flinty, tannic, chalky chevre blended with the smooth, buttery, not-quite sweet avocado with the ease of destiny. Yin met yang and it was creamy and good. Over time, I tweaked the recipe by adding a little nutmeg to the garlic, shallot, and white pepper.
I get good feedback on my chevre guacamole. How good is it? It's hard to judge my own cooking, but the requests for cilantro are few and less than ardent. I'll call that success and leave the politics of cilantro to next week's post.
Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.