Saturday, September 8, 2012

Understanding guacamole: sauce of the gods

Can you imagine some beef tacos smothered in guacamole? Or better yet, dipping some crispy golden tacos into such a green dip, which sometimes hides a burst of spiciness arising from serrano chiles.

Anyway, guacamole has become an ideal sauce for much of the Mexican cuisine.

“Avocado, tomato, onion, salt, cilantro and serrano chile.” Those ingredients and in that order are what Emiliano Gutiérrez, owner of a Mexican restaurant in East Tulsa, says are the elements of what he calls classic guacamole. “Now if you want a version of the original recipe, you can turn the guacamole into a sauce. That one has avocado, serrano chiles, lemon and salt.”

Gutiérrez, a native of Nogales, Mexico, says there cannot be grilled beef without guacamole. “It will be something else; but if you don’t accompany it that way, then you are missing a good part of the dish,” he said as he revealed a few secrets about his sauce.

“If you leave the pit on the plate, it maintains its color longer. Of course, lemon can help out, but it adds a bit of acidity,” he said, adding that “the most important thing is to prepare it when it is going to be used. It should be fresh, and if you have a molcajete, that’s much better.”

Claudia García provides guacamole to six taco vendors in East Tulsa. “My recipe has no avocado, but it is the best guacamole,” said the cook, who is originally from Puebla, Mexico. “This guacamole is based on tomatillos and poblano chiles.”

García’s version takes a little more time than traditional guacamole, but the advantage is that it lasts longer, especially because it doesn’t undergo the oxidation that is typical of avocado.

García says the tomatillos are roasted with the peppers. “Then they are ground.” The flavor arises with the addition of onions, garlic, cilantro, lemon, salt and pepper.

But since tastes vary like day and night, Silvia Leal stepped outside the box and created a recipe for guacamole with crab. “It’s from the family,” said Leal, a cook at a restaurant in Plaza Santa Cecilia in east Tulsa. “It is very tasty because aside from the crab, it has mayonnaise, red pepper and crushed tortilla chips.” Perhaps because she is originally from the coastal city of Acapulco, in Mexico, she added seafood to the classic salsa. “It tastes better like that.”

Sandra Duarte, Leal’s helper, said that in her native state of Jalisco in Mexico, the pacholas, an unusual breaded and fried steak, is served with guacamole. “But with habanero chile,” she said. “So it will be spicy and tasty.”

With avocado, with tomatillos or even with crab, guacamole is already part of the universal cuisine; it is without doubt, a delicious appetizer. It was with good reason, according to pre-Hispanic mythology, that Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god, offered the recipe for guacamole to the Toltecs, who spread it throughout the American territory.

How does one select the perfect avocado?
Since this fruit – yes, technically it is a fruit, although it is not sweet – is at the heart of guacamole, knowing how to choose them is critical.
Bonifacio Hernández, a cook at the Morelos grocery store in southwest of Tulsa, says the fruit should be “at its mature stage, not too green and not too ripe.” To find out, “it must be squeezed. If it is too soft, it is overripe.”

Did you know?
The word guacamole is from the Nahuatl language, derived from the word ahuacatl, meaning avocado, and molli, meaning mole or sauce. The avocado had an erotic significance for the Aztecs, so much so that women could not pick them, because they represented testicles.

Photos by Juan Miret

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