Americans love guacamole, but we've been all wrong when it comes to how we consume this essential Mexican food. Rick Bayless, part cultural anthropologist, part James Beard award-winning master chef, has lived and traveled all over Mexico researching the cuisine, and he tells Men's Journal that guacamole, like salsa, "is a condiment. You eat it alongside something else [like] a piece of grilled fish. You see it more in a taqueria, but you wouldn't find it easily on the menu....
"In Mexico, guacamole is always made with ripe avocado, salt, and fresh lime juice. In the taquerias, it's very simple, just this seasoned, mashed avocado, not with tomato because tacos already have tomatoes," he says. In U.S. restaurants, the classic preference is to mix in the makings of pico de gallo (tomatoes, chilies, onion, and cilantro) with the avocado, and that's what frames the recipe below.
When making guacamole, Bayless recommends keeping a few basics in mind:
• Make sure the avocados are very ripe (but not mushy). If they are hard, allow them to ripen for a week at room temperature. When ready, the flower indentation on the bottom will still be green and the avocado will feel slightly soft. The flesh inside will be rich, buttery, and bright green with few or no brown streaks.
• One you've taken the flesh out, mash it – but not too much – with an old-fashioned potato masher, which "gives the best texture," says chef Bayless. He recommends a chunky texture for the most flavor.
• Don't add too much lime. "Americans tend to overdo the lime because they think it will help keep the avocado from turning brown. But too much lime juice can obliterate the flavor of an avocado. You have to be very careful, very delicate," he cautions. His rule of thumb: "for every three avocados, about 1 1/2 tbsp fresh lime juice."
Rick Bayless' Classic Guacamole
Makes about 2 1/2 cups
Fresh hot green chilies to taste (about 2 serranos or 1 jalapeño), stemmed
1/2 medium white onion, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup), plus a little extra for garnish
6 ounces ripe tomatoes (1 medium round or 2 plum; sundried tomatoes may be substituted if red, ripe tomatoes are not in season)
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, plus a little extra for garnish
3 medium-to-large ripe avocados (about 1 1/4 pounds total)
1 to 2 tbsp fresh lime juice
A few slices of radish for garnish (optional)
1. Roast the chilies. Lay the chilies in a small ungreased skillet over medium heat. Turn them every minute or so until they have softened (they'll darken in spots), 5 to 10 minutes. Mash them into a coarse puree, using a mortar, or chop them finely. Place in a large bowl.
2. Scoop the chopped onion into a strainer and rinse under cold water; shake off excess water and add to the bowl with the chilies. Chop the tomato into small bits — skin, seeds, and all is my preference. Add to the bowl along with the cilantro.
3. Slice the avocado in half. Make a cut down the length of one avocado straight through to the pit. Continue cutting all the way around the pit until you wind up where you started. Twist the two halves in opposite directions and pull them apart. Scoop out the pit with a spoon. Then scoop out the avocado flesh from the skin and add to the bowl. Do the same with the remaining avocados. Use an old-fashioned potato masher to mash the avocado flesh into a coarse pulp, mixing in the other ingredients as you go.
4. Taste the guacamole and season with salt, usually a scant teaspoon, then add some of the lime juice and taste again. Continue seasoning with lime until the guacamole has enough zip for you. Cover with plastic wrap, placing it directly on the surface [to prevent browning], and refrigerate until you're ready to serve.
To serve: Unless you're serving guacamole dolloped onto tacos or the like, the classic way to present it to your guests is in a Mexican lava-rock mortar (molcajete), sprinkled with chopped onion, cilantro, and, if desired, sliced radish.
Variation: Bacon guacamole. Cook 4 thick slices (about 4 ounces) bacon in a skillet until browned and crisp. Drain on paper towels, then chop into small pieces. Stir in half the bacon when adding more flavorings in Step 2. Sprinkle the remaining bacon on top before serving. (Adapted from Bacon Tomatillo Guacamole in Frontera: Margaritas, Guacamoles and Snacks.)