We were lucky enough to catch Chicago’s own Rick Bayless at a cooking demonstration during the Printer’s Row Lit Fest a few weeks ago. Originally we had considered not even going – too hot, too crowded, we thought – but were shocked when we arrived just a few minutes early to find a few open seats. Stay we did, and we are glad, because over the next fifteen minutes Rick Bayless absolutely blew our minds making a simple bowl of guacamole. Here’s some of his key thoughts, which we have already started incorporating into our home-made guacs:
1. Avocados are amazing. Use Hass avocados – they were bred specifically for guacamole-like uses. They are one of the few fruits that does not ripen on the tree. Amazingly, if picked and left at below 50 degrees, they will never ripen. What this means is that when you buy them at the grocery store they have been pre-refrigerated, and so will not ripen for another 3-5 days. The takeaway: you cannot use an avocado the day you buy it. When buying an avocado, check to make sure the stem is still intact (it will be brown inside otherwise), and afterwards you can store them up to a year in the fridge and they will never go bad. They are ripe when you have left them out for 3-5 days and the top by the stem is squishy.
2. Lime juice and avocado pits: you’re using too much! Leaving avocado pits in the fruit or in guacamole does not help them stay fresh. Neither does adding lime juice. And adding too much of either makes the guacamole taste less like avocado and more like something else. To keep it fresh, only temperature matters. And getting rid of the rumors helps you highlight the other ingredients.
3. Use white onions. They taste better, they are crispier, and it is a sin against cooking to use red or Spanish ones. He said this and he meant it. If you are concerned about them being too overwhelming in the dish, here is how to fix it: Cutting white onions causes chemicals in two different sections of the membrane to interact, producing a kind of sulfuric acid. To stop the reaction, just run them under cold water – this is called “deflaming” the onion in Mexico. It is for this reason…
4. Do not make guacamole in a molcajete! Crushing the onions with the stone mortar and pestle will just re-break the onion membrane and thus ruin all the good washing work you did. Better to make the guacamole in another bowl (mixing it), and then serve it in a molcajete for maximum classiness.
5. Guacamole is largely an American invention, as the USA is largely, as Mr. Bayless put it, “a chip-and-dip culture.” Mexican guacamole is very simple: avocado, garlic, a little lime juice, and perhaps salt and pepper. That’s because it is meant to be used on foods in concert with other accompaniments: fresh cilantro, salsas, etc. When you realize how American guacamole is, you realize that you don’t have to be dependent on stereotypically Mexican ingredients, which brings us to point 6….
6. Avocados are adaptable. They go with sweet, sour, and savory, and do it well. Americans tend to be too limited in how they use avocados, and they tend to not be particularly knowledgeable about the ones they are using. Rick Bayless made a salsa with tomatoes, cilantro, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, and – wait for it – bacon. (He even held up a piece of bacon and said “everything is better with bacon.”) Another great combination he recommended: watermelon cubs, habaneros, and mint. Mangoes are great as well in guacamole. Most of us don’t think to use these ingredients, but trust us, they are killer.