table talk

The all-star avocado

By Gina Colburn Goto

The reason why I like to cook and not bake is because you can be as creative as you want. Baking is science to a certain extent; you must be very precise to have a beautiful loaf or a perfect cake or pie. I like using versatile ingredients to try different methods of preparation and flavors.

One ingredient I often use during my stress-release spontaneous cooking sessions is avocado which is not just for guacamole.

Before I get into my recipes, let me share a few facts about the fruit. Yes, it is a fruit, not a vegetable. It’s actually a member of the berry family. They must reach full maturity before they are picked. However, they do not soften on the tree. The tree can be used as storage unit by keeping the fruit on the tree for many months after maturing.

Avocados in Japan often are referred to as “butter of the forest” because of their rich flavor and high calorie content. They have become commonly available in supermarkets since the late 1970s, mostly imported from Mexico.

Interestingly, avocado in sushi was the idea of a Japanese chef in Los Angeles about 40 years ago. He decided to use it as a replacement for “toro” because it offered a similar melt-in-your-mouth feel. It was subsequently used in the world-wide hit California Rolls -- a Japanese invention, but created in the U.S.

As the sushi chef in LA figured out 40 years ago, avocado and soy sauce is a match made in heaven. I like to sprinkle a dash of salt on perfectly ripened sliced avocado, squeeze half a lemon, and then splash some olive oil and soy sauce on it. This is such a lovely combination. A definite must-try.

I can go on and on about ways of preparing chilled avocado dishes, but as the weather starts to cool, how about thinking outside the box and trying warm avocado dishes? You are in for a nice surprise.

Adding puréed avocado into some chicken broth makes a lovely avocado potage. The green color enhances once it is heated, turning into the most beautiful lush color. I was served this lovely “jade soup” as they called it at a high-end Chinese restaurant in Tokyo with lots of shark’s fin and shrimp in the bowl. I tried to recreate it at home minus the flamboyant ingredients and it was simple and delicious.

A recipe I will share today is Avocado Au Gratin. This unique creamy dish was introduced to me at a private cooking class I have been attending for 10 years in Omotesando. At first, all of us students could not imagine what an oven-baked avocado would taste like, but when we tasted a spoon full of hot avocado smothered in creamy cheesy sauce, we thought our sensei was a genius. Ever since then, I have enjoyed seeing the delighted faces of guests when I serve this at our dinner parties.

Avocado Au Gratin (serves 4)

2 ripe avocados 8 shrimp 8 scallops 1 Tablespoon oil 1 Tablespoon white wine 3 Tablespoon butter 3 Tablespoon flour ½ teaspoon salt 2 cups milk 1 cup shredded cheese

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). 2) Make sure avocados are well ripened. Cut in half and take out the pits. 3) In a small frying pan, cook shrimp and scallops in oil & white wine. Cut into bite-size pieces. 4) In a medium-size sauce pan, melt butter and mix in flour and salt. Mix well. Add milk little at a time, mixing constantly with a whisk. Cook until the mixture has thickened. 5) Pour the sauce over the avocados. 6) Place shrimp and scallops on the top, covering them with shredded cheese. 7) Bake in a preheated oven for 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted. 8) Serve hot with a spoon.

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I didn't like avocados when I was younger but now I do, especially with tuna carpaccio, and tuna and avocado salad.

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This sounds outstanding. Thanks for the inspiration, I may even give it a try tonight.

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Avocado and bacon sandwiches take some beating.

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Do householders grow avocadoes in Japan? No local crop?

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A useful tip: to prevent guacamole from turning brown (oxidising), compress it into a container and cover it with a layer of water. It will not mix with the avocado, and can easily be poured off. This will be effective for several days at least.

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The Mexican avocados here in Japan are small, hard, thick-skinned and disgusting. And yes, I do know the difference between a ripe avo and an unripe one. The go from hard and unripe to brown and inedible in about 12 hours and are very obviously frozen in transit, which ruins them.

It is no wonder that most Japanese people hate them, because they've never tasted a real avo.

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I had no idea avocado sushi was invented by a Japanese chef living in US! I'll have to remind people of that the next time they whine about how disgusting foreign sushi is (that is, after I'm done questioning them about why they went all the way overseas to eat Japanese food in the first place).

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They grow in San Jose CA so I guess they'd do well in Japan.

... The California Avocado Commission says an average tree in that state typically averages 150 avocados a year, totaling 60 pounds of avocados, although a single tree is capable of producing 500 avocados, weighing 200 pounds, in one year. ...

Commission is talking about commercially-cultivated Hass avocadoes, but the article has details on various varieties.

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