Guacamole, with its rich texture and fresh flavor, makes a great snack for sports get-togethers, where you don't want to get too messy.
But if you're a procrastinator, and time just kind of got away from you before the Super Bowl, don't despair, says Chef Anthony Amoroso; avocados are best used on the day they were bought. And one benefit of globalization is the larger Haas avocados that make the best guacamole now are available all year.
"The reason you want a larger one is the pit is basically the same size inside. So if it's five inches in diameter, you get a lot more pulp than if it's 4 inches," he says. "You get more out of what you're buying and also save a little work for yourself, because you only have to open one or two avocados."
As Corporate Chef of Joint Ventures for Caesars Entertainment overseeing several casino restaurants, Amoroso understands the value of efficiency when cooking on a deadline. When he beat Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto in "Battle Branzino" in 2009, he had just an hour to make a winning dish without knowing beforehand what the secret ingredient would be.
But that's OK, because Amoroso isn't married to any one style of cuisine. Rather he relies on quality ingredients and strives to maintain a balanced flavor in whatever he's cooking up.
"If you start with a great avocado, respect it. Do the right thing to complement it and it will come out great," he says, encouraging home cooks to taste as they go. "It's more about how much you can leave out, and that applies to all food. Let a tomato be a tomato. If you start with a great avocado, half a teaspoon of salt, a tablespoon each of onion and cilantro and half a teaspoon of finely chopped chiles, you'll end up with good guacamole no matter what."
A ripe avocado should give a little but not be too squishy, Amoroso says. A good rule of thumb is to press your thumb, forefinger and middle finger together, and then push your other forefinger into the fleshy part of your palm below the thumb. That's about the consistency you want to feel under the firm peel.
If you have a few days before you want to use it, just set the avocado in a window sill and it will ripen. If it's mushy in the store, it's already too far gone.
And as for those old wives tales about squirting lemon juice on the unused avocado to keep it from turning black, they're just that, Amoroso says.
"Whatever part is exposed to the air is going to turn black," he says. "Eventually it will oxidize, but you can just cut that part off and keep going. If you only use half, put the half with the seed still in it in a Zip-lock bag and right into the fridge. Only a millimeter or two around the outside turns black and you can just cut that little bitty bit off. You won't lose the whole thing."
At Dos Caminos inside Harrah's Atlantic City, Amoroso uses a spoon to scoop out the avocado from the shell, then coarsely chops the pulp, rather than mashing it. The onions are finely diced or mashed in a molcajete - or mortar and pestle - to release the flavorful juices, and spices such as salt and cilantro are sprinkled in to taste before optional ingredients such as tomatoes, crab meat or mango and papaya are folded in. And never, ever, use lemon or lime juice from a squeeze bottle; "it loses all its essential oils and just tastes like straight citric acid," he warns.
A common misstep by first-timers is using too much lime juice (1/2 a lime should do) and not enough salt, Amoroso says. Match the chiles to your guests' palates: jalapenos will give a mild kick, Serrano chiles add middling heat and chipotles give the guacamole a smoky flavor. Habaneros pack some serious heat.
Contact Felicia Compian:
609-272-7209 or FCompian@pressofac.com
Inside Harrah's Resort, 777 Harrah's Blvd., Atlantic City
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, 5 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays