My first experience of guacamole was eating it slathered all over nachos – with equal parts bottled salsa and sour cream – in a shitful restaurant in central Melbourne. On Monday and Tuesday nights they had half-price margaritas, which almost got you in a state to enjoy the nachos. Almost.
The supermarket taco box was my next meaningful encounter with Mexican. With enough fresh tomato and coriander, you could almost mask the flavour of the box ingredients. Secretly, I still enjoy them with the kids from time to time, for nostalgia and convenience. I draw the line at the freestanding taco, and other unnatural innovations.
The rise of decent Mexican restaurants in Australia – as well as Argentinian and Peruvian restaurants – has been a blessing. Suddenly our understanding of Mexican food extends beyond tacos and nachos, and has taught us something of the joys of tequila and mescal – both spirits once as underrated for their subtlety as the half-priced margaritas were overvalued.
I haven’t spent time in Mexico, but I’ve eaten a lot of bad guacamole and I think that qualifies me to make a good one. First: a note on avocados. Begin looking for avocados three days before you intend to use them, because you will never find them as ripe as you want. To test they’re ready, I squeeze around the top for a little bit of give. If you need to ripen an avocado quickly, place it in a brown paper bag with a banana for a day or two. There are few things worse than under-ripe avocados that have been mashed with the intention of making them appear ripe. Which is also true of under-ripe bananas.
The defining characteristic of a good guacamole is its texture. Smooth guacamole misses the point. A good guacamole should be quickly whipped with a fork, retaining the odd chunk. It should be rustic.
The balance of chilli, lime juice and coriander is also important. I like to taste the zing of the lime juice and the flavour of the coriander, with a gentle sense of the chilli. I like the flavour of this without the heat, though, which is why I call for a long red chilli that is not too hot. As proof that I haven’t been to Mexico, I’ve also added hazelnuts.
A chef I worked with early in my career used to make a fermented rice pancake as a snack, served with this hazelnut guacamole, which was about 20 years ahead of its time and never made it onto the restaurant menu. But it is really delicious – the hazelnuts get your attention and take the dish somewhere you don’t expect it to go.
– 1 pack soft-shell tortilla
– 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
– 2 ripe avocados
– 2 tbsp lime juice
– 40g hazelnuts, roasted and peeled
– 3 tbsp coriander (about ½ bunch), leaves picked
– ½ long red chilli, finely diced
– 2 spring onions, finely sliced
– pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat your oven to 180ºC.
Cut the soft tortilla into tiny wedges and toss in a stainless-steel bowl with one tablespoon of the grapeseed oil and a good pinch of salt and pepper.
Lay the pieces on a large flat tray without any of them overlapping. Bake in the oven until golden. When ready leave to cool to room temperature before serving.
Meanwhile, to make the guacamole, halve and remove the seed from the avocado. With a spoon, remove the flesh and place in a mixing bowl.
Vigorously mash the avocado with a fork along with the lime juice and the remaining grapeseed oil.
Separately chop the hazelnuts and the coriander. Add the chilli, hazelnuts, spring onion and coriander to the avocado and stir well.
Season with salt and pepper to taste. This will keep for an hour or two in the fridge.
Moritz beer, Barcelona (rrp $24, six pack).
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 10, 2015 as "Wholly guacamole". Subscribe here.