Alan Tangren: Avocados … and football?
Dear Alan: I always like to serve guacamole and tortilla chips at my Super Bowl party. Last year the avocados I found in the store were soft, but almost unusable because of bruises and black spots inside. Any tips on choosing good ones?
Alan: The week before Super Bowl Sunday is one of the busiest for avocado sales. A little advanced planning is needed to make sure you have fruit in prime condition on game day.
We are used to seeing huge piles of avocados any time we walk into a produce store or supermarket. Last year Americans bought over 2 billion pounds of avocados.
Mexico, Guatemala and the West Indies are the ancestral home of avocados. There they ripen year-round and have been an important food for thousands of years.
Facts about avocados
Avocados didn’t come to California until 1856, much later than other introduced crops. But they have made themselves at home in the coastal belt from Santa Barbara down to San Diego.
The most popular variety in California, and around the world, is the Hass. In California Hass ripens from February through October; the peak of the season is April.
So where do all the Hass avocados come from in fall and winter? You probably won’t be surprised that 80 percent of all avocados consumed in the U.S. are imported from Mexico, where the season lasts all year.
The skin of a Hass avocado is thick and pebbly; dark green when harvested, and purplish black when ripe enough to eat. One reason for their remarkable popularity is their rich flavor and high mono unsaturated (healthy) fat content of the creamy flesh.
Avocados are easily bruised when ripe, so it’s best to buy very firm fruit and ripen them at home. Avoid very soft fruit, as it may have the black spots and other dark areas in the flesh that you mentioned.
When you get home, leave them at room temperature on the counter or in a basket with other fruits. They will ripen in several days or up to a week, depending on the temperature in your home and the degree of maturity.
So, buy at least a week ahead of time and start checking for ripeness when the skin starts to darken.
They are ready when they give to gentle pressure. At this point they will keep perfectly well in the refrigerator for several days.
The safest way to peel an avocado is to use a paring knife to make a cut from the stem end, around the bottom and back to the stem, cutting through to the pit. Rotate the fruit 90 degrees and make another similar cut from stem to stem, basically quartering the fruit.
Twist off the quarters and pull out the seed with your fingers. Then lift the points of the skin and pull off the peel.
Slice or mash the flesh as needed for your recipe. Squeeze lemon or lime juice over the flesh to keep it from turning brown. There is no truth to the idea that close contact with the pit will prevent browning.
Make this at the last minute. It will never taste better. Diana Kennedy, the careful and thoughtful expert on Mexican cooking, said this combination is a classic. She crushes everything in her stone molcajete, but I use the food processor.
Makes about 2-1/2 cups
1/3 cup minced white onion
2 – 4 serrano chiles, sliced, with or without seeds
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Juice of 2 limes
Salt to taste
3 avocados, quartered, seeded and peeled
3/4 cup finely chopped tomato
Put 3 tablespoons of the minced onion, the chiles, 1/4 cup cilantro, the lime juice and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process to a paste.
Add the avocado and pulse to break up the avocado to a rough texture. Remove to a serving bowl and stir in 1/2 cup of the tomato. Sprinkle the remaining minced onion, cilantro and tomato over the top and serve immediately.
Chef Alan Tangren spent 22 years as a chef in the kitchens of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, eight of those years spent as the Chez Panisse forager. He teaches cooking classes and directs monthly Chef’s Tables at Tess’ Kitchen Store, 115 Mill St. in Grass Valley. Learn more at http://www.tesskitchenstore.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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