I'm generally not given to bragging about my cooking, but if there's one thing I'm pretty proud of, it's my guacamole.
I mentioned it the other day when I wrote about how I am (or used to be) scared to death of cooking wild ducks, and that prompted my friend Albert at The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles to request the recipe. While I don't, as a rule, write about non-hunting subjects, I figured this would be a good exception to the rule. Who doesn't love guacamole?
You may wonder why I've chosen the photo above to illustrate this post. Wouldn't an avocado be better? But it is this bizarre little item that is most essential for good guacamole.
It's called a molcajete, pronounced mole-cah-HAY-tay. Say it a couple times with a fierce Samurai growl - you'll be surprised how much you like it. It is carved from basalt, endowed with the charming face of a pig and painted for good measure. Totally cheesy.
It is a mortar and pestle, but its particular features make it better than the marble version you might find at Pier 1, or the the clay suribachi used in Japanese cooking - the one with scratch marks in the clay that make it look like a permanent zen garden.
Here's a closeup of the important part of the molcajete:
The rough pitting of the bowl is the magic behind good guacamole. It grinds ingredients without pureeing them, so they still have texture, and it brings out the juices of each ingredient, infusing them together far better than you would using a blender, or my mom's old method, two forks.
So how do you find a molcajete? If you live anyplace with any substantial Mexican population at all, you probably have a Mexican market near you. (I bought this one in Richmond, Virginia - not a city known for its Mexican population - so it's easier than you may think to find them.) Most Mexican markets carry molcajetes of varying quality. The one shown here is one of the best and usually goes for $20; others with a rougher grain aren't as good, but will suffice. Read to the end if you plan to buy one of these, because you need to know how to "cure" it.
One final note before I get to the good part: I didn't invent this recipe. It's pure Diana Kennedy, the goddess of Mexican cooking, who developed it by traveling extensively throughout Mexico.
THE BEST GUACAMOLE RECIPE EVER
Ingredients:> Three ripe avocados
> One-half onion, chopped
> One ripe Roma tomato, chopped
> 2-3 serrano chilis, or jalapenos if you prefer something milder, chopped
> A small handful of cilantro, chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
> 2-3 ripe limes
> Salt to taste (I prefer kosher salt, or margarita salt - anything with a large grain)
Place chopped onions and chilis into the molcajete and grind them until they've been reduced to pulpy bits and released much of their juices. Add cilantro and do the same. Add tomato and do the same (it doesn't take much).
Now, slice the avocados in half and remove the pits. Don't worry about pulling the pit out carefully to preserve the flesh of the fruit - that's how guacamole accidents happen. Using a spoon, scoop out a few spoonsful of avocado flesh at a time and grind it into the mixture in the molcajete. Don't do all your avocados at once or it'll be difficult, and you'll miss big chunks. As each batch gets thoroughly mushed, add another few spoonsful.
Now, add lime and salt to taste. There truly is no single acceptable measurement for this. I come from a long line of people genetically predisposed to crave salts and acids, so in my family, we use a lot. The amount of lime you'll need also depends on the particular alkalinity of your avocados. So just squeeze in some juice and sprinkle in some salt and keep testing it on a tortilla chip until you're happy with it.
Kennedy will tell you to save the pit and put it into the dip to keep it from going brown. In my experience, the dip never lasts long enough to go brown, so I don't bother.
Q: I noticed your molcajete looks stained. Don't you ever wash it?
A: Yep, I do, but avocados contain a lot of fat. Healthy fat, but fat nonetheless, and it stains the stone. Nothing to worry about.
Q: So how do you clean it?
A: Easy: I put it in the sink, run hot water in it and add a little dish soap, then use a scrub brush to get into all the pits and pores. You won't be able to get out all the green bits - they really stick in there. But it's OK. No one has died from eating guac out of my molcajete. After scrubbing, rinse thoroughly to get out all the soap, then turn it upside down to drain. It takes a while to dry out completely, because it's a big stone sponge.
Alternate method: Rinse it out and stick it in the dishwasher.
Q: You mentioned something about curing the molcajete. What's up with that?
A: The molcajete is made of stone, and if you just start using it straight off the shelf, you're going to get bits of stone in your food. Not so good for your teeth!
To cure it, you dump in a handful of uncooked rice, grind it down, rinse it out, and repeat 3-5 times until the rice no longer looks gray at the end of the grinding. I won't lie - this process is a total pain in the butt. But it's worth it when you make your guac and all the people who eat it tell you it's the best guac they've ever had. Your big fat head will make you forget all about the torture you endured.
Q: Any more advice?
A: Yes, when you find your molcajete on the store's shelf, you'll often find the pestle missing. It's not really missing - they often store them behind the counter to keep people from stealing them. Just ask for one. And if the store carries more than one kind of molcajete, make sure to get a pestle that matches - sometimes they'll accidentally hand you the lesser large-grained pestle, and you definitely want matching quality mortar and pestle.
One more thing: Be careful with it - if you drop it, it'll break. But if you handle it carefully, it'll be fine. Mine has survived a move from Virginia to Minnesota, and then from Minnesota to California, and one I got for a friend survived a move to Afhanistan. The biggest problem she has is finding avocados to put into it.
© Holly A. Heyser 2008