At the risk of sounding melodramatic, the best thing that ever happened to me in moving from Indiana to California eight years ago was avocados. Oh how I adored those luscious, silky specimens of the Lauraceae family, so readily available all year round. Outside of salting an avocado and eating it right out of its skin, the best way to devour these fine fruits is through guacamole.
I don’t claim to be a guacamole expert, or to have some secret recipe passed down to me from a long-lost Mexican grandmother, but I have learned a few tricks that ensure that my guacamole gets devoured at every barbecue and party in about 10 minutes. (No exaggeration — just ask Caroline and her birthday party guests.) Here’s my recipe for Mango Guacamole, which works great as a dip, or on turkey sandwiches, or on hot dogs, or in spoonfuls straight from the bowl to your mouth.
4 ripe Hass avocados
2 jalepeno or serrano peppers
1 small to medium red onion
1 lime, squeezed
salt, preferably sea salt or kosher salt
There are two secrets to great guacamole. First thing to remember is that it’s not really about what ingredients you use. There are so many variations, and virtually all of them are delicious. Although I love cilantro, I don’t use it because I have more than one friend who complains about the “soap in your mouth” phenomenon of the herb.
Secret #1 — Sharpen those knife skills.
The line between good and great guacamole lies within how well you dice the ingredients. The finer your dice, the better the texture of your guacamole. Big, unwieldy chunks of onion or pepper or whole leafs of cilantro are the signs of lazy guacamole making. Get as close to a brunoise as you can: 1/8″ x 1/8″ x 1/8″ cubes. Brunoise the onion, peppers and mango. Set aside.
Next, peel, pit and mash the avocados. You can do this any way you want, but I like to chop up the avocados into medium-sized cubes so that they are easier to mash. The best way to mash them is in a molcajete (mortar and pestle), but I don’t own one of those, so I make do with a large bowl and potato masher (works much faster than a fork). Add about half the lime juice as you mash.
Add the rest of the ingredients, using a fork to incorporate them into the avocado mixture. Incorporate the rest of the lime juice — a key ingredient, as the ascorbic acid helps prevent the guacamole from turning brown.
Secret #2 — Salt is your best friend.
I don’t know why so many people either forget or are afraid of salt. Salt brings out the flavors of foods and harmonizes them in a way that physically mixing them cannot. But don’t just throw in the salt all at once. I salt my guacamole a pinch at a time, mixing and tasting until it’s perfect. It usually takes me about three generous pinches (about a teaspoon or so) before I get my “aha!” moment. And trust me, there will be an “aha!” moment.
Side Note: There’s an old cook’s tip that claims that leaving your pit in the guacamole keeps it from turning brown. As I recently discovered, this is not entirely true. The pit only prevents the surrounding guacamole from turning brown (by cutting off oxygen, the main culprit). Best trick is to layer plastic wrap directly on top of guacamole until it’s ready for serving.