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Dharma Kitchen

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Ask the Chef Burning Questions: How Do I Pick the Perfect Avocado for Guacamole?

Carrie H

Although I don't personally watch football, I do tend to make guacamole more in the winter than the summer for some odd reason—perhaps I oddly crave light creamy flavors when there's piles of snow on the ground, like now. But just in time for the Super Bowl and its myriad snacking opportunities, we bring you the latest installment of our Ask the Chef Burning Questions. We've been partnering with Matthew Robinson of the Culinary Exchange for a while now, and this month's question comes from a food loving PR pal named Tracey Werner of Blabbermouth Communications.  The question—and its answer—can make or break your guac during the big game. Or whenever you make it. 

Q: "How do I know when an avocado is ripe? They're either too ripe or too hard in the store, and the window of ripeness once I get them home feels really small. Please help!"

Good question! With the Super Bowl upon us soon and 1000s of pounds of guacamole set to be made for the big party, we better get this right. No one wants to serve less than perfectly creamy avocados.  The first part of answering this question is to begin with honestly facing the big elephant in the room, or the big avocado, as it were. I must be frank, and I don’t want to besmirch the good people who are behind the product, I just want to say that choosing good avocados for guacamole means not selecting those really big ones from Florida. There, I said it. Does anyone know anyone who likes those avocados in a guacamole?

So, now that we are all on the same page and speaking about the Hass avocados, here is how you can choose great avocados for guacamole. It comes down to our ability to wade through the piles of avocados at the store in hopes that we choose the most creamy, delectable specimens ever. Or, at the very least, find a nicely ripened one that does not have the thumb prints from the 157 previous shoppers with the same goal in mind. To avoid this scenario, buy your avocados green and hard, and let them ripen at home on the countertop. Ripening should take about 3-5 days, so plan ahead if possible.

Of course, whether you search for the ripest of them at the store or do the ripening at home, you still have to know when they are ripe. There are two hints to finding ripe avocados. The first hint is the color—they should be dark/ black. Of the two, this is the least reliable hint. Goodness knows how many dark/black avocados I have cut into only to discover that the avocado was still a hard, watery, green lump and not the creamy nirvana desired. Although, not 100% reliable, it is still a good tip: We should be looking for black, not green, avocados.

A perfectly creamy guacamole only comes from picking the perfect avocados. Photo courtesy Matthew Robinson/The Culinary Exchange. 

A perfectly creamy guacamole only comes from picking the perfect avocados. Photo courtesy Matthew Robinson/The Culinary Exchange

The second tip is the one that makes the difference. This is the one that needs to be practiced and perfected to assure that we can identify ripe avocados. Here are the vague words that make up this hint: The avocado yields to slight pressure. I know what you are thinking— “Well Mr. Chef/Scientist what the h@#)) does that mean?" I understand this frustration; a lot is riding on this.  After all, the only thing worse than a guacamole with lumpy, watery avocado is one, evidently, made with peas! 

Here is how to make use of this tip: Hold the avocado in the palm of your hand. Give it a gentle squeeze. If it feels hard—like a baseball or fully inflated football—it is not ripe. Pass on it or bring it home to ripen. If it yields a lot and the skin feels leathery and loose it is probably over ripe. Choose another. Those brown spots in over ripe avocados are gross. If, however, there is some gentle give (a yielding to slight pressure), like what you might feel when you gently squeeze a new tennis ball,  it is ripe. Take it and use it within a day or two.  If you won’t be using it until after a day or 2, pop it in the fridge.

And that is how you choose a ripe avocado. Ignore what people tell you about removing the stem and looking at the color, pushing on them with your finger or microwave ripening and focus on the 2 hints above: Look for the dark color and if it yields to slight pressure, like the feel of a new tennis ball when gently squeezed. 

One surefire way to practice this is to buy three unripe avocados. Let them sit on your countertop. Give them a squeeze every day. After three days give one a squeeze and cut it open.  Do this on day five and day seven, too, noting the difference in ripeness. Commit the feeling of the ripe avocado to memory. Concerned about wasting a partially ripe avocado?  Don’t be. A cut up, partially ripe avocado can be whipped up in a smoothie or, hidden behind some fruit juice, a banana and fat free Greek yogurt!  If they all ripen too quickly, into the fridge with them or into a fresh guacamole!

Speaking of which, let's talk about that guacamole. Along with the above hints, I would like to offer a way to serve your guacamole. I recommend setting up a guacamole bar for your Super Bowl party. Why? If the game is a stinker, at least your guests will have their guacamole just the way they like it. And, if by some weird chance they don’t like guac, they can mix their own salsa!

Deluxe Guacamole and Salsa Bar

Ingredients

  • 8 Avocado (more or less, depending on the number at your party)
  • 3 Limes
  • 1 head of garlic plus 2 cloves
  • 10 slices of cooked bacon
  • 1 big bunch of cilantro (1.5-2 oz)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 5 tomatoes
  • 8 tomatillos
  • 1 small jicama
  • 1 medium cucumber
  • 1 mango
  • ½ lb. of queso fresco or feta cheese
  • 2 red chili peppers
  • 1 jar of sliced jalepeño peppers
  • 1 box of frozen corn 
  • 1/2 cup of pumpkin seeds
  • A bottle of tequila
  • Cumin
  • Red chili flakes
  • Chili powder
  • Paprika
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Corn Tortilla Chips
  • Pork Rinds (Pig skins, in homage to the game)

Instructions

Peel and de-seed the avocado. Mash the avocado in a medium bowl and mix well to create the guacamole base. Add the juice of one lime to taste—and to make sure it stays green during the game. Slice the other 2 limes into wedges (some might like extra lime). Place them on a small plate.

Douse the head of garlic in vegetable oil. Wrap it in foil and roast it at 350°F for 45 minutes. Let it cool. Peel the roasted garlic cloves then mash them in a small bowl.

Crumble the bacon. Place it on/in a small plate or small bowl.

Peel and finely chop the 2 uncooked garlic cloves. Do the same to the cilantro. Dice the onion, tomatoes, tomatillos, jicama, cucumber and mango. Place each ingredient into its own small bowl or plate.

Thinly slice the red chili pepper. Place it on/in its own plate or bowl. Defrost the corn and drain it. Place it on its own plate or bowl. Place the jalapeño slices and pumpkin seeds into their own small bowls.

Pour small amounts of each spice into very small bowls. Put a serving spoon with each ingredient, including the avocado mash.

Open the bottle of tequila and make sure your guests know they can/should add a glug to their guacamole. This also helps if the game and/or the commercials are stinkers!

Place the chips and pork rinds in a big basket.

Arrange all the plates of ingredients around the mashed avocado with the bottle of tequila and chips basket. Place utensils and small bowls your guests can use to whip up their own guacamole or salsa right nearby the buffet. Don’t forget the napkins!

You can add or remove ingredients from the list above as you see fit.

I think it also prudent to note, that while we in the USA eat most of our avocado as guacamole, millions of other people in the world drink their avocados in sweet drinks. If the guac doesn’t float your boat, then let your guests drink an avocado, whipped in a delicious smoothie or margarita. Enjoy!

Serves: A Crowd

Deluxe Guacamole and Salsa Bar. Photo Courtesy Matthew Robinson/The Culinary Exchange.

Deluxe Guacamole and Salsa Bar. Photo Courtesy Matthew Robinson/The Culinary Exchange.

Pineapple Avocado Smoothies/Margaritas

Ingredients

  •  1 lb of ripe pineapple
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut water
  • 2 cups ice 
  • Honey, sugar or agave nectar

Instructions

Peel the pineapple thoroughly and remove the tough inner core. Dice into small cubes and place it in the blender. 

Peel the avocado and remove the seed. Add the avocado to the blender. 

Add the coconut water and ice. Pulse the blender to start, and then blend until smooth. Sweeten to taste with honey, sugar or agave nectar. 

Serve in four tall glasses, garnished with pieces of pineapple. 

Notes

If you are making this as a margarita, reduce the coconut water by 1/4 cup and use tequila instead. Rim the glass with salt or sugar, as desired.

For a thicker drink, add more avocado.