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Mastering the Avocado

August 25, 1994|JOAN DRAKE

At a Mexicantheme party I attended years ago, every container of guacamole had an avocado pit nestled in the center. The hosts assured me that the seed prevented the dip from turning dark.

Not true. It was lemon juice added to the mashed fruit, not the seeds, that kept it bright-green. Other facts about avocados:

* They're available year around.

* Once picked, if stored at 70 degrees, firm avocados will ripen in three to five days.

* To speed up the ripening process, enclose avocados in a paper bag or place in a bowl with other fruit.

* Slow down ripening by refrigerating avocados whole. Once an avocado is cut, the ripening process stops.

* Avocados should not be frozen--it ruins their texture.

* This fruit is best eaten raw; the flesh becomes bitter when heated. Add to cooked foods, such as omelets, just before serving.

There are myriad avocado varieties, but the two most commonly found in markets--Haas and Fuerte--are grown in California.

The pebbled skin of the Haas turns from emerald green to black as the fruit ripens. This oval-shaped summer variety is available April through November.

The skin of the pear-shaped Fuerte is smooth, thin and lighter-green. Fuerte is the most popular winter variety.

Florida produces many kinds of avocados, but they're generally lower in fat and therefore less rich in flavor. Small seedless fruit, called cocktail avocados, can sometimes be found in the spring and summer.

When using avocados, plan ahead, unless your market carries fruit at various stages of ripeness. Firm ripe avocados, which yield to gentle palm pressure, are best for slicing and chopping. Very ripe fruit feel soft without pressing and are ideal for guacamole.

To prepare an avocado for serving, cut it lengthwise in half (Step 1), all the way around the pit. Then holding the fruit between the palms of your hands, gently twist the halves until they separate (Step 2).

The pit will remain in one of the halves. To keep a cut avocado, spread mayonnaise (Step 3) or soft butter over the cut flesh, then wrap in foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate.

To remove the seed, carefully strike it with a sharp knife, embedding the blade in the seed. Rotate the knife (Step 4) to loosen the seed, then lift out.

When an avocado is really ripe, the skin can be pulled off with your fingers or the blade of a knife (Step 5). If the flesh is still firm, slice the avocado into quarters and cut the skin from each piece.

The yellowish-green flesh of ripe avocados has a buttery texture. It discolors rapidly when exposed to air unless sprinkled with lemon juice (Step 6). Avocados have a delicate, nutty flavor and are generally enjoyed as a salad or first course. For an attractive presentation, place a prepared avocado half, cut-side-down, on a work surface. Beginning at the widest end, slice thinly to about 3/4 inch from the narrow end (Step 7).

By not cutting all the way through, you leave the narrow end to serve as a hinge so the fruit can be gently splayed into a fan, with the slices slightly overlapping (Step 8). Place on a lettuce leaf, sprinkle with cooked baby shrimp and dribble with vinaigrette.

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