Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Simple Life

We here at anapestic are really not all about the simplicity. We tend to look askance at the people who tell us that less is more, remembering the reflexive principle from sixth grade math. (Or thereabouts. Sixth grade was a long time ago.) Let there be no mistake about it: more is more.

Still, there are plenty of occasions, especially in the culinary universe, when more of fewer things is better than less of more things, and it is left as an exercise for the reader to determine just how that statement fits into the more-or-less formulation. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you are surely not alone, but be comforted by the knowledge that this paragraph will end very soon.

I want to talk about guacamole.

There are, in my experience, few dishes that provide as much sensory and culinary gratification in as little prep time as does guacamole. To begin with, consider the perfectly ripe avocado: is it not a marvelous thing? Is it not dark and green and pebbly, and does it not fit perfectly in the hand? Is it not firm yet yielding slightly to pressure, and does not the contemplation of the as-yet-uncut fruit invariably lead to the anticipation of the succulence within?

(These, reader, are rhetorical questions, and while I'm explaining, I might as well also be confessing. The contemplation of the perfectly ripe avocado [note that I do not say "Haas avocado," as there is, to my mind, no other sort of avocado, and if you are cursed with a partner who has not yet grasped this fact, you had better take whatever drastic measures are necessary to let him know that those other things masquerading as avocados have no place whatsoever in your kitchen, and that if he happens to be in the supermarket with you and spots some of those abominations hanging out on a produce stand, he may want to distract you before unpleasantness ensues; you might also want to inform him that the so-called guacamole dip that he purchased in little tubs and served at parties before he met you and which has mayonnaise as its first ingredient was the sort of horrible mistake that only you can save him from, and he should be very grateful] is the first of several culinary fictions that I must employ today. If you want to have the sublime pleasure of making guacamole, you're going to have to plan ahead because finding a perfectly ripe avocado at the supermarket on the day you want to use it is very unlikely. You can, however, buy a bag of five at Costco, and they'll last for a few days after they reach ripeness, and there are many other excellent uses for them. Of course, if you're one of those people who are lucky enough to have an avocado tree in your yard, you probably have a ready supply. In which case, I hate you, and may I please have your house?)

Cutting into an avocado is among the more satisfying things you can do with a knife. I use my eight-inch chef's knife, and I start at the fat end, slicing through the skin and flesh until I reach the pit. I then roll the knife around the pit, until the knife comes back to the place on the fruit from which it started. I then twist the avocado and separate it into halves.

At this point, if you are wise, you may dislodge the pit with a spoon, but I find that I am entirely unable to resist giving the pit a whack with the blade of the knife and turning the knife slightly to extract the pit. It is a singularly satisfying act, made none the less so by the subsequently necessary and very difficult act of extracting a slippery avocado pit from your knife. There is no pleasure without pain, I reckon.

Once I have my halved and pitted avocado(s), I will sometimes simply run a spoon between the peel and flesh. Other times, I'll score the flesh with my knife, in which case it will come out in smaller pieces with straighter edges. You do not, of course, want to cut the pieces too small. You want the final product to be chunky rather than smooth. If that is not what you want, please get in touch with me, and I will re-educate you.

If you talk to five different cooks, you will probably come up with five different recipes for guacamole. Or ten different recipes, if the cooks are loquacious. Guacamole is not like Caesar salad dressing (this statement is true on many levels). If you do not agree with me about the fact that anchovies have no place in Caesar salad, you are simply wrong, though you are doubtless a fine person in many other ways. Guacamole is something about which reasonable people can differ. (That's my official opinion, anyway. Let's face it: I'm convinced that my guacamole is the best, and other people feel the same way about their own recipes. On the other hand, I will happily eat other people's guacamoles without even a whiff of condescension. Truth be told, if you served me a Caesar salad with anchovies, I would never be so rude as to object, but nobody makes Caesar salad from scratch these days anyway, and everybody makes guacamole. Except for my partner: I won't let him. Seriously, it came in little tubs and was mostly mayonnaise. God only knows what they used to make it green.)

My guacamole always has exactly four ingredients. For every avocado that I use, I use the juice of half a lemon, a clove of garlic, and a half teaspoon of salt. The salt, naturally, may increase a bit when I taste for seasoning. The garlic and salt (kosher salt, of course) should be pureed together. You do this the same knife that you used to cut into and remove the pit from your avocado, thus completing the trinity of cutlery gratification. Really, if you have never pureed garlic with your knife, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It provides a feeling of accomplishment that one normally gets only from balancing one's checkbook.

In fact, you will probably want to puree the garlic before you cut into the avocado. If I were a better person, I'd have written the steps in the ideal order, but I got carried away thinking about the avocado.

In any case, I combine the avocado, the garlic/salt puree, and the lemon juice with a fork, mashing the avocado lightly as I mix. When it's nicely mixed and still chunky, you will want to serve it immediately with corn chips or perhaps a spoon.

It has been suggested to me, probably correctly, that lime juice would be preferable to lemon juice. So far, I have not had fresh limes and ripe avocados at the same time, but I will certainly test the idea this summer.

It has also been suggested to me that I should put red onion, minced chili peppers, cilantro, fresh tomatoes, and/or God only knows what all in my guacamole. I'm afraid that I just can't do that, but, as ever, I'm willing to meet you half way. If you're over at my house eating some of my guacamole, the chances are excellent that I will also have made some of my fresh salsa, which will contain most or all of the suggested additions. Go to the kitchen, and just to the left of the refrigerator, you'll see a cabinet. At about shoulder height there are some small white bowls. Take one and mix some of my excellent salsa into my excellent guacamole. I will not stop you.

I will, however, continue to think that guacamole should be all about highlighting the sublimity of the avocado. I may, in my darker moments, go so far as to suspect that if you are adding all of that stuff to your guacamole, you are attempting to make up for the fact that your avocados were not everything that they should have been. But no doubt you are too fine a person to try such a stunt, so I will keep my suspicions to myself.


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