This should be done with your fingertips, NOT thumbs. Use the same gradual pressure and firmness that you would when checking a sprained joint on your body. Your fingertips are far more sensitive than the broad joint of your thumb. You can check ripeness of just about anything with them. There is a reason blade-smiths check for sharpness with their fingertips instead of their thumbs. Be as gentle as you would with someone’s ball-sack, oh you didn’t know? Aguacate literally translates to Scrotum. You’re welcome.
A Haas avocado will be close to a forest green, the stem plug should be in place and it will give to gentle finger-tip pressure. Take your finger and slowly push the tip of your nose towards your face – that’s the kind of “give” the avocado should have. A little softer will still be useable, any harder and it will be bitter.
Store them in a paper bag, along with a banana or tomato, if you have them. The methane will speed it up. Be careful, if it’s close to ripe already, it can go south of cheese in less than a day.
Store in the open with plenty of space in between each one. They ripen each other when close. Never store in a refrigerator. It will just rot slowly.
Organically Grown vs “Traditional”
Many people will say that organic tastes better. Blind taste tests have shown that this has more to do with confirmation bias than anything else. Here’s what I do know: an organically grown avocado will ripen and degrade more gracefully, every single time. I don’t know why this is, but after going through hundreds of avocados, I get the same results. Buy organic and you will get a better product. You should be able to eat a slice with nothing on it and say “Sweet Jesus, that’s good”. I’m talking about the best butter/olive oil you’ve ever had, kind of good. Not that Land-O-Lakes shit. I’m talking about the stuff you see in the fancy grocery store and say “holy shit, who pays that much for a block of butter or bottle of oil?”. Me, that’s who. And you should too, if only once, to take a small piece off that block or teaspoon from the bottle, put it in your mouth and swirl it around to coat. If you don’t feel like mother nature is making sweet love to your face-in the best way possible-then that’s fair enough, but at least you tried it, and you’ll have some idea of what a perfect avocado should taste like.
This is all about knife skills. Forget the cut-in-half and scoop method. It offers no control on how you want the texture to come out. It assumes you are going to mash the poor bastard, even though he aspired to be part of a sublime sushi roll or wrapped around a bacon-fat fried prawn. What you want to do is quarter it lengthwise, then twist the parts to separate. Then peel the skin off, which will come off easily because it’s perfectly ripe, right? I’ve heard of people hitting the pit with a knife and twisting to remove, which is plenty good, but many times, the pit will just push out without damaging the fruit.
If you have no idea what I’m on about in the preceding description, look up how a sushi chef (more properly known as itamae) processes an avocado. Better yet, go to a good sushi joint and sit at the bar and watch. In fact, spend several nights watching everything they do. There are few kitchen swordsmen in the world that can compare to a master itamae. If you can practice enough to be even 40% as good, you’ll be able to do damn-near anything a home-kitchen will require of you, with a speed and efficiency that will amaze most. If you’re really serious about cooking, study knife skills from all the mother cuisines. But I digress…
Once you have that skill down, 90% of all your cado prep will be the same up to the quartering and peeling. Then it’s a matter of how much smaller you’re going to cut it down and/or mash.
After you’ve done this many, many times. You will know exactly how the avocado will peel and whether or not you’ll need to pop the pit with a knife… the second you put the knife in. You’ll feel it.
What Do Avocados Really Want From You?
I already told you this – to make sweet love to your face. Okay, actually it’s acid and salt. That’s it. Everything/anything else serves only to build flavor to match the flavor profile of the meal your are preparing. Every batch of avocado is a little different based on source, ripeness and handling. Acid and salt must be added as appropriate to the batch you’re working with and of course, to your taste. Only after you get your acid and salt proportions right, should you move on to the building the flavor profile.
Some Examples of Flavor Profiles
- Japanese: Soy (which is your salt), or ponzu (which is your salt and acid), lime (if you’re not using ponzu), sesame seed oil (and/or sesame seeds for appearance and texture). Sliced lengthwise.
- Greek: Sea salt, lemon, dill, onion. Small chunks
- Indian: Lime, sea salt, cilantro and a good lime curry/chutney. Rough mash.
- South American: Lime, salt, cilantro, red onion, tomato, jalapeno (or serrano). Rough mash. Notice I didn’t say sour cream? Because it does not belong in a proper guacamole. Sour cream is used to hide the bitterness of under-ripe/over-ripe avocados and to add the unctuousness of what a good quality ripe avocado should already have… and we’re not using crap, right?
The Pit Trick
Lots of people swear by this. Put the avocado pit(s) in the center of the dish and it will keep it from going brown. Only partially true. The stuff furthest away will go brown from oxidation. The pit helps, but it doesn’t form a Star-Trek shield over the entire dish (“dammit Jim, I’m a fruit, not a star-ship!”). Add a sheet of plastic-wrap on top and push it down into the dish. Don’t pull it taught – you’re trying to form a “skin” on the exposed food. Air is the enemy. Of course, the acid in the dish (see above) will do more to save you from oxidization than the pit will. Yes, you can refrigerate a prepared dish for a few hours. In many cases, it gets better with a couple hours of rest, marinating.
I’m not a big fan of this. I’ve tasted baked, pan seared and deep fried varieties and it tends to go bitter/tough quickly. When you cook an ingredient, you do it for the following reasons: to make it safe and/or easier for consumption, and/or to bring out the best it has to offer. The beauty of the avocado is in its raw simplicity. Cooking an avocado is like cooking uni (sea urchin), or over-temping a fine olive oil: you’re literally burning away the very thing that makes it so amazing.