It’s Guac-War Out There

Guacamole and Chips
Guacamole and Chips

Until today, I was perfectly content with my level of achievement in the guacamole department, especially since my friend, the original celebrity chef Jonathan Waxman, cited me in the headnote to his guacamole recipe in his book, A Great American Cook. I didn’t particularly like the part where he referred to me as “one of his Mexican buddies” because I thought it made me sound like one of the guys he shot tequila and played dominoes with in some smoky Deer Hunter-esque lodge, but I was probably projecting, and anyway that is, as they say, another story.

Plus, I forgave him because I felt so proud that this great American cook, and a native Californian to boot, would source me, a psuedo-semi-Mexican guera for what is arguably my native country’s biggest contribution to the American culinary landscape. (Salsa has been so misappropriated I don’t even want to go there.)

But all that was then. Before The Foodinista invited me to her first ever Guac-Off. On her blog, she’s invited you, the public at large, to weigh in on what makes a great guac and why. My cousin, Dean, who grew up in California and for reasons we, his California family, sit under the eucalyptus trees scratching our heads over, has moved to someplace in Nordic country where you can count on your fingers the number of times the temperature rises above zero annually, poses the question of how to spell “Hass.” (It is spelled “Hass.”) Which brings me to the question of whether or not to use Hass. Which brings me to the realization that as much as I like to tout a spirit of generosity when it comes to recipe sharing, I am really, really competitive. Where one time I might have shared my thoughts on avocados and guacamole—and I evidently once shared the recipe with my buddy, Waxman, that was then. This, my friends, is guac guerra. That’s “war” to you salsa eaters. Hass-ta la vista, babies.

Guacamole and Chips

I may, out of sheer pride, give up my guac recipe if I win the Guac-Off. In the meantime, since it’s published anyway, here is the version published in JW’s book. Headnote and all.

To this day, my first choice for a comfort meal is home-cooked corn tortillas, a freshly made tub of guacamole, and a margarita. My version of guacamole is partly based on that of one of my Mexcian buddies, Carolynn Carreño [That’s me. That’s the part that really irks me!], who learned it from her grandmother.

A fruit that is treated like a vegetable [here he puts on the authoritative hat because he is, after all the great American cook] the avocado is comforting—creamy and satisfying…. [He goes on but I’m starting to get bored, plus I don’t know if the publisher will kill me if I just start copying the whole book, so if you want to read the rest of the headnote do the old fashioned thing and buy the book.]

4 cups corn oil or peanut oil

12 slightly stale corn tortillas

Sea salt

1/2 sweet onion, such as Vidalia

2 jalapeño chiles

1 serrano chile

1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste

4 ripe Hass avocados

1 lemon

1 lime

Heat the oil in a deep heavy skillet to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, cut the tortillas into eighths (wedges) or into 1-inch strips. Cook the chips in 3 batches, until medium golden in color: Do not undercook! [Thanks for that, Jonathan!] Remove the chips from the oil with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain, and immediately sprinkle them with sea salt. [Or buy some good corn chips, some made by Mexicans, not machines, and start HERE:]

Finely mince the onion. Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles. Place the onion, chiles, cilantro, and kosher salt in a molcajete or mortar and pestle [Jonathan has a collection of these at his restaurant, Barbuto. It’s really cool.] or a small food processor and mash or puree until almost liquid. Peel and pit the avocados, place them in a medium bowl, and mash them well with a fork. Fold in the onion mixture. Juice the lemon and lime and stir as much of the juice as you like into the guacamole. Taste for salt and add more if needed. [In my experience, just about everything needs more salt, but most especially guacamole. And mashed potatoes.]

Transfer the guacamole to a serving bowl and serve with the chips.



10 thoughts on “It’s Guac-War Out There

  1. Solid recipe. Mine changes as to whim, and ingredients available in the larder. One interesting thing I have done of late is to use pickled onions instead of fresh. And what that requires is simple. I slice a red onion on a slicer, really thin, and pickle with kosher salt, lime juice, cane sugar, and a tiny bit of cider vinegar. Let rest over night. And when I make guac. I start with the onions in a large mortar and grind them to a paste. I keep the avo. chutney, and add fresh cored tomato for texture. I have found it gives a savory back note to the guac. and not the bite of raw onion. What do I know however, being an Ex-Patriot of the coast. While you were scratching your head under the Eucalyptus tree wondering, I was surprised the other day, while planting radish seeds in one of our lower fields, by a 300 pound black bear rummaging in the corn field next to our property. You don’t see that in Santa Monica! I want to hear the results of the war, if desired I will pen a recipe for replication out west! Love your blog!

  2. I like the make-your-own chip angle on this recipe. When I lived in MA I used to make a really embarrassing Guac with waaay too much in it and learned the true way to good guac when I lived here in SoCal for a few years.

    My Guatemalan in-laws came for a visit recently and taught me their family recipe which is now mine. The hand pestle method for oregano was a real surprise. But really adds a lot to this simple preparation.

    Go to

    1. holy guac–oregano? really?? yes the pestle as you call it–a molcajete– is key. i’m sure it’s the orginal way since the word “mole” at the end of “guac” comes form the word “molir,” which is “to grind.” plus, it makes sense. it turns making guac from a real pain in the butt chopping job into something quick and easy. just what you need when you’re busy building pyramids and stuff.

  3. I love this recipe and make it all the time in my molcajete you gave me. My recipe is pretty much(that word we were told not to use by you know who) the same except I add a little ground cumin, and really good sea salt make a difference. And as Jonathan said ” my first choice with a margarita”!

    1. glad you’re making use of the molcajete–now i have to get me one! but… why do all you not-mexicans think that everything mexican has to get cumin!?!

  4. My mouth is watering. Think that’s a good sign. I’ve always gone for simplicity when it comes to guac, but then again I’m not a great American cook. I’ll try yours next time and I’m sending it immediately to my husband who I confess does most of the cooking in this family. I really miss Barbuto.

  5. I feel affection for this recipe and create it all time in my molcajete you gave me. This Pig Head Molcajete, one of the best tackle someone can have in the kitchen when it comes to preparing the most authentic and delicious Food, is hand made in the shape of a pig. you know you’re getting the most authentic product for grinding chilies puya and spices. Molcajete Pig

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