Tasty tips for serving up your Cinco de Mayo celebration
By Mary Brown Malouf | Photos by Adam Finkle
Cinco de Mayo is one of the first feast days of an American spring, celebrating an essential part of this country’s melting pot. On May 5, everyone is just a little bit Mexican, and during this celebration, margaritas and guacamole top everyone’s menu.
Guacamole is an ancient dish—the Aztecs made it in the 16th century. Since then, it’s been modified, gentrified, diluted, extended and altered too many ways to count. The basic is still the best, and no one does it better than Matthew Lake, chef-owner of Alamexo in downtown Salt Lake. At his restaurant, he teaches servers to make it tableside in an authentic molcajete.
“First, you make the paste. That’s the essential,” says Lake. “Because avocado is a fat, it tends to just wrap around the other ingredients.” The salt releases the liquid from the vegetables. It blends with the fat in the avocado, and that’s how you get the real flavor. “If you just dice and mix, you lose flavor,” says Lake—explaining why people put so much extraneous stuff in guacamole. The minute any air hits the avocado, it oxidizes brown, but Lake avoids adding citrus. “Acid retards browning somewhat, but too much lemon and lime and you don’t taste avocado,” he explains.
Only use ripe Hass avocados
Smaller, dark green, wrinkled and leathery, grown in Mexico and California. “The Mexican ones have a stronger flavor,” Lake says. “They come into season in early winter and go through May. Then it’s back to California avocados.”
Taste your jalapeños before using
The heat in chiles can vary widely. “We taste ours every day so we know how hot they are,” Lake says.
Buy more than you need.
“About 35 percent of the avocados we cut go into the garbage,” Lake says. “You don’t really know if they’re ripe and unbruised until you cut into them, unfortunately.”
Store avocados in a paper bag
Food purveyor Nicholas & Co. has a special room where they ripen the avocados for Chef Lake’s use at Alamexo. At home, put them in a paper bag with a banana to hasten ripening
Did You Know?
Technically Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexico’s victory over the French in The Battle of Puebla in 1862, and it is an official holiday in Mexico celebrated with extra fervor in the state of Puebla—El Dia de la Batalla de Puebla. But it’s come to be an American holiday, a general celebration of Mexican-American heritage.
FOUR STEPS TO THE BEST-EVER GUACAMOLE
Prepare ingredients. 1 Tbsp. white onion, chopped, 1/4 tsp. kosher salt, minced jalapeño, to taste, 1 Tbsp. cilantro, 1 medium tomato, chopped, 3 ripe avocados. (Quantities are approximate; season to taste.)
Make the paste. Put chopped white onion, minced jalapeño and salt in the molcajete and grind with the pestle until juices release.
Score the avocado so it comes out in chunks.“That way, you won’t end up with big chunks you’re trying to break up while the rest of it is overworked,” Lake says. Gently mash the avocado—you don’t want a pureed texture.
Fold in the cilantro and tomatoes gently.
As seen in Utah Style & Design