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The 5 secrets of perfect homemade guacamole

Because store-bought guacamole has too much packaging and potentially strange ingredients; and bad homemade guacamole is sad.

Everyone has their guacamole recipe, and most likely, everyone thinks theirs is the best. But to be honest, mine is the best, really! Having grown up in Southern California with avocado trees in the backyard, I have had a lifetime of perfecting my Los Angelino version of the classic. (And becoming a snob about it in the process, apparently.)

At my local supermarket, I am always struck by the expansiveness of the pre-made guacamole section. What I see there is a lot of packaging … and guacamole that tastes undelicious, most likely because of the added ingredients ensuring that it doesn't oxidize and turn brown. And really, nothing beats homemade guacamole – and so with that in mind, I thought I'd share my tricks.

1. Use the right – and rightly ripe – avocados

The thick-skinned Hass avocado makes for delicious buttery guacamole and is my choice, though I'm sure there are other cultivars that work nicely as well. I just avoid the large thin-skinned avocados for guacamole; they are lower in fat and in my opinion, avocado fat is important! That said, the thin-skinned varieties may be more local depending on where you live, and that counts for a lot; I may have added a little avocado oil to guacamole using those types once or twice, and I may think that the guacamole was improved by it.

Regardless of cultivar, both unripe and overripe avocados don't do any justice to guacamole. Not ripe enough and the texture suffers, too ripe and the flavor can go funky. For the perfect Goldilocks fruit, look for dark skin and a little resistance when the avocado is gently pressed. If it's hard or feels mushy inside, you know it's under or over ripe. Your best bet is to buy unripened avocados in advance and let them sit out at home to ripen, thus avoiding the bruises from the exuberant squeezes of shoppers testing them.

2. Keep the ingredients simple

By most accounts, the ancient version of the dish – dating back to 16th century Aztecs – was originally made with mashed avocados, chili peppers, tomatoes, white onions, and salt. OK, that's pretty simple and delicious. Mine is a bit different, but regardless, here's the thing: Somewhere along the way, people started adding mayonnaise and salsa and sour cream and garlic powder and all kinds of things that don't do the avocado justice. Here's what I think is perfect:

• Avocados
• White onion (or shallot, which is more subtle and is smaller, meaning less waste potential)
• Cilantro
• Jalapeño
• Lime
• Sea salt

3. Ditch the measurements

I will never understand how recipes can call for a specific amount of something like jalapeños. Some jalapeños are so dastardly hot that a speck will set your mouth on flames, others so insipid that a whole pepper is required. Or salt, some people don't love a lot, some people (me) would be happy to have a salt lick permanently installed at the table. Guacamole ingredients are all personal enough (and vary enough) that you need to start with a little of everything and taste as you go along – specific measurements just don't work. More on this in secret #5.

4. Stir, don't mash

There is chunky guacamole and there is smooth guacamole – and then there's my favorite, chunky-smooth. When I accidentally figured out this perfect middle of the road, I am pretty sure that a chorus of angels start singing in my kitchen. The secret is to cut the avocado into dice-size cubes, put them in a bowl, add ingredients, and stir. As you continue to add ingredients and stir, the flesh slowly starts to mash on its own, but there will still be nice defined chunks suspended in the silky puree, giving the guacamole the perfect texture.

5. Find the balance

First I mince the shallot, cilantro, and jalapeño and leave them in little piles on the cutting board. I cut the avocados in halves, remove the pit, cut the cubes right in the peel and scoop them straight into the bowl. Then I add big pinch of onion and cilantro; then add jalapeño, with the amount dependent on the heat, a squeeze of lime and a flutter of sea salt. Stir, taste, assess. I want a perfect balance wherein the onion adds some pungency, the jalapeño some heat, and the cilantro some grassy herbal flavors. The lime acts as a bright balance to the fat, and the salt gives it all a jolt of flavor. No one flavor should stand out more than another, and none of it should compete with the nuttiness of the avocados. Add more of what you need, stir gently again, and taste – and keep on doing this until it sings. Hopefully, you will get to the perfect balance of flavors just as the texture hits peak chunky-smooth. And that's it!

Disclaimer #1: I think of cilantro as human catnip; if it tastes like soap to you, obviously, skip it. Mint is a surprisingly delicious substitute, even if tip #2 above says not to add weird things.

Disclaimer #2: Yes, our love of avocados may be wreaking havoc on forests in Mexico and points further south. But many avocados sold in the U.S. come from California, whose forests were already ravaged long ago. Yay. (Not.) California avocado season is roughly spring through fall.

Updated: January 29, 2020

Because store-bought guacamole has too much packaging and potentially strange ingredients; and bad homemade guacamole is sad.