4 Secrets to Making the Best Guacamole

By Emily Kennedy, Recipe Developer & Tester for EatingWell Magazine

4 Secrets to Making the Best GuacamoleI learned to make really good guacamole on a ranch in the middle of Montana where I cooked for a family of die-hard Mexican-food fans. This family frequently requested Mexican dinner buffets, complete with a mix of salsas, guacamole and homemade tortilla chips. Having to make guacamole over and over again meant that during the course of my few months with them, I became a guacamole expert.

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Here are some of my favorite tips for making killer guacamole at home:

1. Use Ripe Avocados-The foundation of any respectable guacamole is a ripe avocado. A ripe Hass avocado, one of the most common varieties available year-round, will give ever so slightly when you press it gently and its skin will turn deep purple to black as it ripens. You can store ripe fruit (yes, avocados are a fruit, not a vegetable) in the refrigerator for a few days.

Unfortunately, the avocados at my market are usually rock hard or verging on rotten. So, I've gotten into the habit of buying avocados that are still hard a day or two before I plan to make guacamole. You can speed the ripening process along by putting the avocados in a brown paper bag with a banana or an apple.

2. Be Bold with Garlic and Onion-Onions and garlic are essential to any good guacamole. I add finely chopped raw garlic and onion to mine. If I have some time I take a cue from Top Chef winner and Mexican-food expert Rick Bayless (see his awesome Roasted Garlic Guacamole recipe below, and pictured above), and add roasted garlic too. This adds a sweet earthiness that balances the sharp bite of the raw stuff. I use one large finely chopped clove of raw garlic for every two cloves of roasted garlic.

Roasting garlic is easy: simply wrap a whole head in foil and roast it in a 400ºF oven for 40 to 50 minutes. After the garlic cools, you can squeeze the cloves out of their skins.

3. Use Fresh Cilantro and Limes-Fresh cilantro and lime juice are to guacamole what milk is to a chocolate chip cookie. Resist the temptation to used bottled lime juice. A whole lime or two squeezed into your guacamole, along with a handful of chopped cilantro, will provide a welcome burst of brightness and astringency to your dip. A bonus: Fresh lime juice slows down the oxidation process (preventing your guacamole from turning brown).

4. Take Smart Shortcuts-If your guacamole craving cannot wait while you chop garlic and herbs or juice limes, take some help from the supermarket. Add a couple spoonfuls of your favorite jarred salsa, which has all of the traditional guacamole add-ins, to your recipe and shave off a good 5 minutes of prep. If you are really in a rush-say with only 5 minutes left until halftime is over-grab a package of premashed avocado, available in the produce department of some markets.

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Roasted Garlic Guacamole with Help-Yourself Garnishes
Guacamole de Ajo Asado con Sabores a Escoger

Makes: 4 cups guacamole, for 16 servings
Active time: 30 minutes | Total: 30 minutes | To make ahead: Cover and refrigerate the guacamole (Step 1) up to 1 day.

Chef Rick Bayless knows how to throw a great fiesta, or party, and a key part of any great fiesta is the food. "I like to welcome guests with this guacamole bar," he says. "I start off with a basic guacamole made with roasted garlic and set out bowls of toppings so everyone can customize each bite." (Recipe from Fiesta at Rick's by Rick Bayless; W.W. Norton and Company, July 2010.)

6 large cloves garlic, unpeeled
6 ripe medium avocados
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, loosely packed
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus more if desired
1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup Mexican queso fresco, queso añejo, salted pressed farmer's cheese, firm goat cheese, mild feta or Romano, finely crumbled or grated
3/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds (see Tip)
3/4 cup sliced pickled jalapeños
1/2 cup crumbled crisp-fried bacon or 3/4 cup coarsely crumbled chicharrón (Mexican crisp-fried pork rind)
1 16-ounce bag large, sturdy tortilla chips

1. To prepare guacamole: Place unpeeled garlic in a small dry skillet over medium heat; cook, turning occasionally, until soft and blackened in spots, 10 to 15 minutes. Cool, then slip off the skins; finely chop. Scoop avocado flesh into a large bowl. Add the garlic, cilantro and lime juice to taste. Coarsely mash everything together. Season with salt. Transfer to a serving bowl and place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the guacamole. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
2. To set up the guacamole bar: Scoop garnishes into small serving bowls and put the chips in a large basket or bowl. Encourage guests to spoon a little guacamole on a chip and top with garnishes that appeal.

Per 1/4-cup serving: 310 calories; 21 g fat (4 g sat, 10 g mono); 7 mg cholesterol; 28 g carbohydrate; 0 g added sugars; 7 g protein; 6 g fiber; 451 mg sodium; 505 mg potassium.

Kitchen Tip: To toast pumpkin seeds, place in a small dry skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant and lightly browned, 2 to 4 minutes.

What are your secrets to perfect guacamole?

By Emily Kennedy

Emily McKenna Kennedy

Emily Kennedy tests and develops recipes in the EatingWell Test Kitchen. Emily recently moved to Vermont from New York City, where she worked at Food & Wine, food52.com and Real Simple. She is a recent convert to the glories of kale and has a weakness for doughnuts, strawberry licorice and anything her Italian-American grandmother makes, especially pizza.

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