how to make guacamole

All photos by Donna Turner Ruhlman (click them to go to her site)

This is not just a guacamole recipe and preparation, it’s a broader lesson about aromatics and acid and using seasonal foods.  It’s avocado season, so they’re really good now!  And they will be all summer long.  Avocados are one of my favorite fruits; they’re kind of like butter, a ready made sauce—all you have to do is adjust texture and add flavors.

I recently offered this mortar and pestle to followers on OpenSky (more on OpenSky here), and it makes a gorgeous service piece in addition to being a practical cooking tool.  I mash garlic and salt to a paste, then add minced shallot (yes shallots!). Then I add lime juice.

This is one of those great all-purpose techniques I use in many preparations, from mayo to vinaigrettes. First, the juice dissolves the salt so that it can distribute easily throughout the creamy or fatty environment (salt has a hard time dissolving in fat).  But most important, macerating the garlic and shallot in acid for ten minutes eliminates all their harsh qualities, leaving only their sweetness and flavor. (If you don’t have a mortar and pestle or the traditional molcajete, you can mash the garlic with a knife of put it through a press—I don’t have a problem with garlic presses if you remove the germ first.  Then add salt shallot and lime juice.)

The rest is just a matter of mashing in the avocado—I use a fork because I like the uneven texture, but you can also use a pestle—adding tomato for color (it’s April, they’re still not the best, but you can elevate them by salting them ahead of time), and seasoning with more salt and lime as needed, garnishing with cilantro.

Guacamole

  • 2 cloves garlic, halved, germs removed
  • kosher salt (a solid three fingers full), and more to taste
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • Juice from 1 to 2 limes
  • 3 avocados
  • 1 roma tomato, seeded and tiny diced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
  1. Mash the garlic with the salt in the mortar till it’s a paste (or add it crushed or finely minced to a bowl).

    A pestle turns the garlic and salt to a paste in moments.

  2. Add the shallots and the juice of a lime and let it sit for 10 minutes or so, so that the lime juice can do its business on the garlic and shallot and continue to dissolve the salt.  Cut the the avocados in half.  Remove the seed by firmly tapping the blade of your knife into the seed, then twisting to release it from the fruit.  Scoop the avocado into the mortar or bowl.  Mash it with a fork or the pestle.

    Notice the shallots nicely macerating in the lime juice

  3. Fold in the tomatoes (see photo at top), taste, season with more lime juice (it probably needs it), the cilantro, more salt if necessary.

    A fork makes a great reamer for citrus.

  4. Serve with tortillas or use it to top some tacos or a burger. Or just about anything.

    I like casual and so just spread the chips around the mortar on the board.

Donna and I and the kids devoured this and then weren’t even hungry for dinner so this is recipe is enough for eight normal people or four piglets, such as ourselves.

If you liked this post on making guacamole, check out these other links:

© 2011 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2011 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

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78 Wonderful responses to “Lessons of Guacamole”

  • Kathy

    Shallots in guacamole? That’s like putting beans in chili! (I’m kidding, but that doesn’t make it any less wrong.)

      • Ashley

        Interesting substitution! (I feel compelled to comment as I was sitting at my desk, enjoying the guacamole I made last night, when I came across today’s post). I have always used white onion, but will try definitely try the shallot to reduce the sharpness.

        Everyone always raves about my guac and my secret ingredient is ground coriander. I use it in about a 1:1 ratio with the salt. I still garnish with fresh cilantro, but the spice gives the flavor that petit je ne sais quoi!

        Love your writing Rhulman – you inspire me. Keep it up!

      • Ian

        I’m sure shallots are delicious but I have always loved white onion, diced and briefly rinsed before being added to cut the sharpness. I love how they add a crunch but don’t overpower any of the other flavors. Just made a looser avocado salsa with tomatillos that Rick Bayless suggested to pair with duck carnitas. That was good eating.

      • tedg

        I have been making this for years and it never disappoints. The only other recommendation is something I picked up watching Rosa Mexicana in NYC do witht their tableside presentation. After you remove the pit, make tight crisis cross patterns in the flesh to the skin before you scoop it out. Keeps it somewhat chunky even with a little mashing.

      • Dana

        I always used red onion. Shallots sound good too. Never tried with white. It just seems funny… No color? Hm…

    • Mamou

      A chef friend taught me to roast the chopped onion before adding to the avocado – the rest is the same: garlic, lime juice, salt and cilantro. Delicious!

  • Victoria

    This looks so delicious and because I like savoury things for breakfast, I wouldn’t mind having some right now. I have never put garlic in my guacamole, but I will definitely have to try it.

    I guess the fact that salt doesn’t dissolve well in fat is the reason why when I make vinaigrette, I let salt dissolve in the vinegar before I had the olive oil. Marcella’s delicious and simple recipe for tomato salad calls for smashing a couple of cloves of garlic and steeping them in vinegar that has been rather heavily salted for twenty minutes, then strewing the vinegar over sliced tomatoes following by a nice distribution of olive oil and some basil chiffonade.

  • NMissC

    The white onion Kennedy uses works for me. My version– based on hers– has flame-roasted chili poblano in it, and no lime juice, garlic, or black pepper. I like the rough texture, too, but find I can get it with the mortar and pestel.

    One great pedagogical aspect of this recipe is that the wild variation of ingredients in intensity of flavor means you have to learn to balance this dish’s flavors as you make it. Every time its a little different to make but can always arrive at the same good place.

  • Mantonat

    I’ve always left the onion out of guacamole because I find it too distracting, so I’ll have to try shallot since they’re milder than onion and easier to mince into tiny pieces. I also always add minced fresh jalepenos (not the mushy pickled ones).

    I’m not a big fan of tomato in guacamole either because even the best tomatoes just have too much water, which just dilutes the creaminess of the guacamole. If I have good tomatoes, I’ll make a pico de gallo to serve along side the guacamole.

  • john v phipps

    Suggested addition to step 2. Once you get the seed firmly stuck on the knife blade the easiest and safest way to get it off is to straddle the spine of the knife with forefinger and thumb and to just pinch the edge of the seed. It will pop off smoothly and your fingers stay away from the blade.

    • Mantonat

      I usually use the heel of the blade so that I can just push the pit off with my thumb without having to adjust my grip. Looks like Ruhlman’s knife does not have a sharpened heel though. Maybe just a hard whack against the cutting board to completely split the pit and send the halves skittering across the kitchen and under the appliances!

  • Terrie

    I love, love, love guacamole. It’s one of my favorite foods. In fact, when my husband and kids are out of the house, and it’s just me for dinner, guacomole is what I eat. I’m excited to try this version…I usually just add the garlic, onion, salt, and lime juice directly to the avocado, taste and adjust, and then stir in the tomato and cilantro. This does sometimes produce a guacomole with very strong garlic and onion flavors, if I’m not careful. This sounds like the perfect solution. Thanks so much!
    Also, Rick Bayless’s Mexican Everyday is a great cookbook. The Pork Tinga Tacos with Fresh Cheese and Avocado is one of our standby dishes. So good and so easy to prepare!

  • Kathi Riley

    Be careful to “season” a new molcajete before putting any food into it. It is an arduous process but so very necessary or else you end up with gritty sand in your delicious guacomole.

      • Aaron Estes

        I was taught to put in a few tablespoons of white rice and grind until the rice is somewhat pulverized and discolored. Rinse and repeat until the rice comes out clean.

  • Cath

    how much is 3 full fingers of salt? the volume that 3 fingers take up or some other measure how much can be pinched to 3 fingers by thumb

    • ruhlman

      what can be pinched between three or four fingers and your thumb. differs for everyone, learn how much you pick up, even measure, then you can season faster and better to your own taste.

  • Bobby H. Christ

    I always make Guacamole just like my Tia Margarita, she adds a seeded and finely diced jalapeno to Guacamole. A little bite of spice cuts the creamy fattiness of the avocado and the crunch of the green pepper adds a dimension of texture.

  • Chuck Shaw

    I make a Pico de Gallo to mix with the avocados. The Jalapeno adds that nice kick. Bottomline is everyone has their own avocado recipe and I’ve met very few that I didn’t like. Thanks for the tip on Garlic Germ. First I’ve heard of it.

  • Mari

    I add red onion for the color and the crunch. I love guacamole! It’s so hit or miss on whether I’ll get a good avocado at my grocery store, though–they’re often bruised or overripe on the inside, regardless of how “ready” they feel on the outside. I buy them 3-4 at a time with the hopes that I’ll get one good one.

    http://kimcheecasserole.blogspot.com/2011/02/guacamole.html

      • Mari

        Unfortunately, I live in MN, so no matter where they’re from or how in-season they are, the chances of them being in that same condition by the time they reach my stores (and then my house) are awfully small :(

  • joielfinkle

    I have developed a very smooth guac, to fit my wife’s preferences. I’m not fond of chunks of onion or tomato either.
    Per 1 avocado, mashed fine
    Salt to taste
    Juice of 1/2 lime
    Several cilantro sprigs, finely minced
    1 finely minced chipotle in adobo or 1/2 tsp ‘Essential Sweet and Smoky Chipotle Seasoning Salsa’ from “Rick Bayless’ Mexican Kitchen”, or 1/3-1/2 tsp powdered chipotle chile plus a generous pinch of brown sugar

    The chipotle (especially the Bayless salsa) tends to brown up the color of the mix, but this is offset by using lots of cilantro. I love the balance between the spice and smoke of the chipotle with the smooth and creamy of the avocado, with the lime and cilantro brightening the whole.

  • Nicci

    Guacamole seems to be one of those with infinite recipes. I’m a purest with my guacamole. I only like things that enhance the avocado. I add garlic, lime juice, salt, pepper, cilantro(sometimes), and cumin. I do like the idea of chipotle to add some smoke & heat. I really dislike mayo in guacamole unless it’s being used as spread. Definitely going to get a mortar & pestle.

  • Mimi Holtz

    You know your avocados! We grow avocados on our family farm in California and ship select fresh-picked avocado gift boxes all over the USA. Thanks for helping folks know more about our crop!

  • Rooney

    Awesome. I’m always surprised when I go to someone’s house and they crack open a store-bought Guacamole…could anything so good, be easier to make?

    I’ll occasionally add ground cumin to mine, which comes from Floyd Cardoz’s Goan Guacamole at Tabla ( now closed ). Also, a quick guacamole makes for a great breakfast..on toast with, or without, a perfectly fired egg.

  • Casey

    I add grannysmith apple bruinose to mine. Try adding avocado at the end of a risotto instead of butter. sounds weird but tasty.

    • allen

      Thank you, I made a batch with granny smith apple brunoise and it was great. Increased the volume of the guacamole for a few cents and improves the flavor.

  • Elizabeth

    Hmm, I’ve never made guacamole with a mortar and pestle before. I’ve made hummus with a mortar and pestle but it was a little chunky for my taste. I assume guacamole would be better-suited for the mortar and pestle though… the ingredients have different textures.
    I’ll have to try this!

  • Terri

    Simple, simple, simple with few ingredients so as not to overpower the taste and texture of the avocado. My favorite way to make it. I’ve never made it with a mortar and pestle though. I’ll have to try it.

  • Susan

    The first guacamole I ate was smooth with a little mayo mixed in, so I continued to make it that way and got accustomed to a creamy flavor in it, but never went out of my way to make it often. Then I moved to CA where I really enjoyed it the first time served as a mash at will dip. A platter of chunked avacados with salsa fresca or pico de gallo (which included minced garlic and minced jalapeno) on top then strewn with crumbled cojito and cilantro. Take a serving and have your way with it using the side of your tortilla chips. I’ve never looked back!

  • David

    Looks good Ruhlman.. Try adding a chopped jalapeno or serrano for a little more authentic flavor. The shallots sound interesting so I’ll give that a try. I grew up in California and have about 40 years picking avocados and still get a bad one now and then. Soft but not too soft. Try to err on the firm side, especially for guacamole. My best advice is lots of practice

  • Dee

    I always use Vidalia onions for mine. I live in Georgia though, so I have easy access. I also paste my garlic. I use one lemon and one lime, instead of all limes. I find the lime taste can be somewhat much at times and the mix is nice for me. I also add a diced serrano chili and a dash of cumin and coriander along with the salt and pepper. Love guacamole.

  • Lara Fabans

    You inspired me to use the two little avocados that came in the CSA box last Friday, and the lone shallot. I took some liberties, but definitely tried the garlic and shallots in the acid for 10 minutes before I added in the avocado and tomato. I skipped the cilantro since it was in our quesadillas. Also, I added in one ancho chile and some adobo sauce to add a smokiness that we just love.

  • Erik

    Ruhlman, just ripped open the box from Opensky. Love it, thank you for the recommendation, I’ve been looking for a m&p for quite a while. What a timely post. Any special cleaning instructions? I assume no to the dishwasher….

  • KBCraig

    My wife is one of those people with a genetic aversion to cilantro, so I never use it when cooking. I don’t hate cilantro, but I don’t miss it, either. The only place I think it’s indespensible is in pico de gallo, but I never bother since I’m the only one in the house who will eat it.

    We never use mayo or banana in our guacamole, but we do like a little small-curd cottage cheese (well drained), and an equal portion of cream cheese.

    Other that that, it’s salt, lime/lemon juice (whichever we have), and pedestrian old lemon pepper.

  • JimD

    For me the only essential parts of guacamole are salt, lime and avocado. A passable but rather plain (still delicious because, hey it’s avocado!) guacamole can be made with those three things.

    My favorite version is minced scallion, jalapeno, cilantro with the lime salt and avocado. I grind the salt, jalapeno and scallion in the mortar and pestle until it’s a paste then add the lime juice to make a slurry. then add the avocado and cilantro and mash with a fork until it’s chunky and well mixed. Done! It’s fresh and perfect (to my taste buds.)

  • jacob

    On a related (if still off-topic) note, if you haven’t tried Rick Bayless’ avocado ice cream (http://goo.gl/GuXFJ), you’re missing out! He also has a bacon guacamole recipe that is awesome with Ruhlman-method bacon.

  • allen

    Toasted pumpkin seeds are very nice, ground and a few whole sprinkled on top.

    If you have never tried a Maui avocado, they are the San Marzano of avocado’s, something about the volcanic soil makes the onions super sweet and the avocados very special.

    I always look for the little nub on the end to be intact, you don’t end up with that brown inside, I think I got that from Rick Bayless show.

    Cinco De Mayo is a matter of days away, We have one fancy margarita made with La Famiglia, fresh lime and Reserve Grand Marnier. and then a lot of not so fancy ones. C’mon Cinco De Mayo, Tic toc, tic toc, tic toc…

    • luanda

      Thanks for that little nugget of info re: nub on the end. Nothing like buying 4 avocados just to make sure that you get 3 good ones. And then finding you got 2 bad ones.

  • Natalie Sztern

    I am a sucker for once I find a good recipe I stick with it and for me it is onions, but Rick Bayless ‘taught’ me to rinse the onions under cold water to take the kick out of the onions; it is true – I have made it both ways and they is a distinct taste difference but yours is the recipe I make + I add mango and 1 serrano chili

  • Lissa

    I love my guacamole. Pretty similar to above, but I use a bit minced red onion and minced fresh jalapeno as well as just a pinch of cumin. I usually only use two avocados for more or less the same amount of other ingredients and it’s usually a pretty big hit. Mine is a very slightly modified version of the rich version from one of Rick Bayless’s books and was specifically modeled after a form of guacamole I had in a spanish restaurant that my mother took me to once when I visited her.

  • Sheryl Warner

    I follow you on OpenSky and saw the offer today for Wusthof knives. I already have a set; however, I’ve been wondering for some time, what is the best way to sharpen these knives? I took them to a kitchen store where they offered knife sharpening and when I got them back home they were duller than when I took them in. I’ve become interested in learning to use a whetstone and would like to know if you have any recommendations as to type/brand and what would be the best instructional text for learning how to do this. In the alternative, is there a simpler approach that works as well or at least well enough? Would appreciate your thoughts.

  • Gavin

    One thing I think is missing here is chilies. You not necessarily have to add the seeds and ribs if you don’t want it hot, but for me, without the flavor of jalapeno or serrano, it’s just not the same.

    Also, I typically make mine in a molcajete, but instead of mashing the garlic into a paste, I rub the (germ-free) clove directly into the stone. It just sort of dissolves, similar to how garlic will dissolve when rubbed into toasted bread when making bruschetta. It keeps the good garlic flavor, but distributes it much more evenly than paste or pressed garlic.

    I like the idea of shallots. I typically use red onion, de-flamed or desflamada as the Mexicans say (run under cold water or acid as you described) for the color, but shallots would be tasty too, although I like a nice onion-y bite.

  • Rich Zanteson

    I grew up harvesting bag loads of avocados in my neighborhood and tried a lot of different guacamole recipes. The best ingredients are those that enhance the flavor of the avocado – salt, lemon, onion, and garlic. Anything else is just a distraction. I like to grate the onion (white) and I find granulated garlic works quite well. And giving the tortilla chips ten minutes in a 300 deg oven makes a huge difference. My dos centavos!

  • Berry

    This is a fine way to make guacamole. As long as you don’t add sour cream or use a blender there’s a lot of room for variation.

    And if one doesn’t have a mortar and pestle or a molcajete, a large bowl and fork, or for large batches a potato masher work well.

    I also like to dice the avocado while still in the skin by making paralell slices in the flesh. You can usually feel the skin with the knife tip and avoid going through. This speeds the mashing process and works well if you want chunks for a salad.

  • Carri

    It’s also what is so great about this blog. Always something to learn, and if not from Michael, from the awesome commenters. I mean green apple brunoise in your guac? Totes gonna steal that one.

  • lisaiscooking

    I have a weird preference when it comes to guacamole making. I prefer lemon to lime. I know, limes are traditional for Mexican cooking, but lemon juice is better in guacamole. It just is! I’ll try shallots if you try lemon. ;)

  • Gayle

    I took a cooking class in Italy seven years ago at an elderly couple’s villa. The first thing she told us about garlic is “always, always remove the germ!” My family and friends think this is crazy, but I have removed the germ since that time. What wonderful memories!

  • Nancy

    Thanks for the vindication on garlic germ. I never knew what it was called until now, but thought I had heard somewhere long ago that if it’s green, it can impart a bitter taste to your dish. Yet I’ve never seen a single TV chef taking the time to even look at the germ to see if it’s green, let alone remove it. Made me wonder if I was being unnecessarily fastidious, but now I know the score. To paraphrase The Little Prince, “it’s the time you’ve wasted over your (food) that makes it special.”

  • John B

    Like many of the others here, I also use white onion and rinse it. That came from a Rick Bayless recipe. What also came from his recipe which I consider more essential than the garlic is a minced roasted jalapeno, seeds, ribs and skin removed. Like soaking the onions in acid or rinsing, the roasting makes the flavor more subtle and helps it integrate better with the other ingredients.

  • luis

    Guacamole is great, I always add a dash of Tabasco or Sambal to it when I make it. The Mortar is unfortunatelly taken a back seat to the processor when I make guacamole.
    I think the day I retire all that is gonna change cause I think there will be time.. more time… but probably not!. I seldom process garlic other than microplaning it. I have a tiny mortar I found in a spice place in Tarpon Springs that I use often to grind spice blends that can further turn garlic into paste.

  • mostlybadfly

    good call using a molcajete, this is the only real way to get the textures and flavors you’re looking for. I would have to agree that white onion is the way to go. I think it is cool and I guess interesting to use shallots, roasted poblanos, tomatillos or some other ingredient to make it “modern”, but it can seem a bit much for me.

    I always think of this food similar to a lot of sauces (aguacatl “avocado” + mole “sauce” = guacamole) in Mexican cuisine as an accompaniment to say tacos or next to your main dish and some tortillas. Sometimes a dollop is used in a soup for a cold contrast. Maybe i’m confused but in the US does guacamole take on this persona as a stand alone dip of sorts?

    I’m not a hardcore traditionalist by any means, something so pure and basic to me as a guacamole doesn’t need much more than a few ingredients to make it great, the fruit itself is doing all the work.

  • Recipe Clubs

    This is very similar to the recipe I use for guacamole. Instead of shallots I throw in some jalapeno to give it a nice kick. Lately I’ve been putting avocado on everything… sandwiches, salads, etc. Do you have any other avocado-centered recipes you could share?

  • BAGarcia

    I prefer to use red onions in my guacamole (or in sandwiches when raw onion is needed). I’ve had Guacamole in many ways, from simple to complex and yours is a simple & good version. Avocados used to be called “la mantequilla de los pobres” or “poor man’s butter” in Mexico where most people got them at home, but here in the US they’re

  • FSonicSmith

    I’m sorry, but why bother making such a small batch of guac. I am loathe to question Ruhlman who I respect greatly, but I don’t get the recipe at all. You need more limes-try six or eight, then add minced garlic, finely chopped cilantro, lots of fresh ground pepper and salt, a dash of cumin, and only then are the pitted avocado halves added and mashed with a fork or better yet, a hand pastry masher of this sort; http://www.google.com/products/catalog?client=safari&rls=en&q=pastry+masher&oe=UTF-8&um=1&ie=UTF-8&cid=10320592677277790767&sa=X&ei=URy6TYi4Eqb40gHut-Bw&ved=0CDsQ8wIwBA#ps-sellers
    A dash of hot sauce is also nice. Nothing is sadder than bland fatty guac. Like a nicely balance wine, it needs acid to counter the fat and spice.

  • Елена

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  • Alonna Smith

    I saw somewhere that Eva Longoria, who is Mexican, uses lemon juice in her guac. I’ve used it ever since and everyone loves it. I also add a tiny pinch of cumin, which adds a nice depth. My favorite way to us guac after as an app it to top sauteed salmon with it. Great contrast in color, temp, and flavors.

  • Mantonat

    I suppose a person could share the wisdom of their years in the comments section. Or they could read other blog posts about ingredients and recipes with which they are less familiar. Not everyone has the advantage of living in a place where guacamole is as common as salt and pepper. I’ve only been making guacamole for 35 years or so, and I still learned something here – that next time I make guacamole, I am going to use shallot instead of onion. I also recently made my own bacon from a pork belly for the first time in my life, thanks to Ruhlman’s excellent book and blog posts. So maybe you have nothing to learn about guacomole, but maybe you have something to teach about guacamole. Or maybe you have something to learn about some other food.

  • ruhlman

    the great thing about food and cooking, there is always always always something more to learn. always.

  • Toni

    You are so right!

    As a fourth generation native Californio I can’t hardly believe what some people put in guacamole. I’m not (necessarily) saying it’s bad, it’s just that I can’t see how some of them could possibly work– like the one with no acid, for example. How does that not turn a very unappetizing shade of gold-ish brown in minutes? And banana? All I can say to that is: WTF?

    Personally, I do mine much the same way someone else mentioned by making a big batch of pico de gallo first and then using diced in the skin and scooped out avocado, lime juice, some of the pico and adding garlic, because there shouldn’t be garlic in pico. (I will try the acidulated garlic and onion next time.) Traditionally, Mexican cooking nearly always uses white onions, but sometimes I don’t. It just depends on what I have on hand.

    One last thing that always bugs me: it is pronounced wah-cuh-mo-lay, not gwahk-uh-mo-lee. It’s almost as hard on my ears as when Robert Irvine says he’s going to make tack-os. Yikes! Tack-ee! Perhaps you could mention that to him sometime if you happen to run into him at a FN event? I think lots of people would really appreciate it.

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