Guac Talk

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Food editor Brook Harlan demonstrates how to make the perfect guacamole.

Food editor Brook Harlan demonstrates how to make the perfect guacamole.

L.G. PATTERSON

Avocados have a mystique about them. Why do they look like dinosaur eggs? How do I get into them? How do I tell if they are ripe?

In the culinary world, we consider the avocado a vegetable, but botanically it is a fruit (a single seed berry to be exact). Avocados are a great addition to sandwiches and salads; they also make a great base and thickener for cold soups. Add a few other components, and you can make a great guacamole.

Guacamole
The Aztecs started making guacamole in the 16th century. They called it āhuacamolli, which translates to avocado sauce. As a sauce or dip, guacamole can be eaten on just about anything from chips to hamburgers. There are as many variations on guacamole as there are varieties of avocados (hundreds). Everyone has their own preference on the additions, but we can all agree on one thing when it comes to guacamole: It contains avocados.

Avocados
The avocado is the heart of the dish; it needs to be ripe, but not too ripe. Ripeness can be checked easily by lightly pressing your thumb into the flesh through the skin. It should have a slight give — more give than an apple, but less than a ripe banana. This indicates you have a ripe avocado you can use in making guacamole or slice and use on your salad or sandwich. Like a banana and apple, the avocado will continue to ripen off the tree. If you can’t find a ripe avocado in the store, or don’t plan to use them for a few days, place the avocados into a paper bag for a day or two to help them ripen.

Onion
Just about any type of onion will work in guacamole. The rich and creamy texture of the avocado contrasts well with the onion’s crisp texture and bite of sharp heat. Yellow, white, red, green, spring onions or scallions or chives … the balance is what you want. Use what you have on hand and make it your own.

Acid
Lime juice is the most common acid to use in guacamole, and with good reason. The acid of lime complements everything else in the dish, and limes grow in the same region as avocados. The acid of the lime juice helps cut the fattiness without being overly sweet. Lemon works as a good alternative, and so does cider vinegar, rice vinegar or white wine vinegar.

Heat
Jalapeño or serrano are the most popular heat providers. Add just the flesh if you want a milder heat, or use with the seeds for a spicier finish. If you are brave, use habanero, Scotch bonnet, ghost pepper or any other ridiculously hot pepper. Frank’s, Tabasco, Cholula, Sriracha, Crystal or any other hot sauce works well to balance out with a little salt at the end.

Seasoning
Cilantro is by far the most popular herb for guacamole, but some love it and some hate it. I find that most recipes add nowhere near enough. I like almost an entire bunch mixed into the guacamole. You can add tomato, garlic, roasted garlic, cumin and cayenne to your guacamole. There is no right or wrong ingredient to add — it all depends on what you like.

Use
I love guacamole with freshly fried chips, but it has a multitude of other uses. Use it on sandwiches, tacos, burritos, burgers, nachos, toast, dip vegetables, deviled eggs, potato skins and stuffed mushrooms (cook, then stuff). Mix with homemade cold white chicken stock for a tasty chilled soup.

BASIC GUACAMOLE
Makes about 1 pint

4 avocados
1 small red onion, diced
1 jalapeño, minced
1 bunch cilantro, minced
2 to 3 limes
Salt, as needed
Hot sauce, as desired

Cut each avocado from top to bottom around the pit, with the cut encircling the pit. Twist in opposite directions to separate the two halves. Using the section of the knife about 2 inches from where the blade meets the handle, lightly tap the pit. Twist the knife with the pit attached to gently remove. Using your thumb, gently push the pit off the blade from behind the cutting edge.

Using the tip of a spoon, cut the avocado into several sections (more sections if you want a smoother guacamole, fewer sections if you want it chunkier), then scoop out the meat of the avocado and place it into a bowl. Mix in onion, jalapeño and cilantro. Squeeze 1 to 2 limes into the guacamole and season with salt and your favorite hot sauce.

VARIATIONS
Make the basic version and split it into several portions. Try adding different ingredients to a few portions to see what you like.

Roasted garlic

Diced fresh peaches

Tomatoes

Roasted tomato

Cumin

Fresh corn kernels

Feta cheese

Rendered bacon

Black beans

Oxidation Tip: Guacamole oxidizes quickly; don’t make it until close to serving time. The addition of lime juice or other acid will slow down the browning (a little extra on top helps) but it won’t stop it completely. Contact covering with plastic wrap once the guacamole is finished also helps prevent oxidation. Take a piece of plastic wrap directly on the guacamole, pressing out all of the air, and then take another piece of plastic wrap and wrap the container to hold the contact cover plastic in place.
Brook Harlan is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. He is a culinary arts instructor at the Columbia Area Career Center.

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