Other Names: Alligator pear, butter pear.

General Description: Avocado (Persea Americana), native to Central America, is in the laurel family. The luscious avocado’s pear shape and creamy flesh naturally led to its reputation as an aphrodisiac. Its Aztec name, ahuacatl, means “testicle,” referring to both the fruit’s shape and the way it hangs from the tree in pairs. Mostly eaten raw, avocados can be delicious if heated briefly. However, they become bitter when heated too long.

The avocado was cultivated from Peru to the Rio Grande long before the arrival of Europeans, and it only crossed the American border into California around 1871. Avocados have been available in Europe since the early 1900s. Although they were not accepted at first, avocados have made a rapid advance into the cuisines of Western Europe, with pyramids of Israeli avocados appearing on stands across Europe.

The Hass avocado has pebbly skin that ripens from green to purplish black. Oval-shaped with a small to medium-sized seed, it has thick but pliable skin and peels easily. Over 80 percent of California avocados are Hass. Cocktail or “finger” avocados are unpollinated fruits that resemble a thin pickle with smooth green skin, pale green flesh, and a creamy texture. Florida (or Caribbean) avocados have deep green flesh covered with a smooth, green, pliable skin and a large pit. They are light in taste and texture and are more fruitlike and less buttery than California varieties.

Season: California avocados are available year-round. The Hass avocado is harvested from early winter through spring; other varieties fill out the year.

Purchase: When buying an avocado for immediate use, select fruit that yields to gentle pressure; if planning to use days later, look for more firmness. The small knob at the stem end should come free easily. A ripe Hass avocado will have dark, matte purple-black skin. Other varieties may be light green in color even when ripe.

Avoid: Don’t buy bright green, rock-hard avocados because they will be difficult, if not impossible, to ripen properly. Avoid avocados that are sunken, shriveled, or mushy.

Storage: Store avocados at a cool room temperature, feeling them daily until they reach peak ripeness. To speed ripening, place in a paper bag with an apple. Once ripe, eat immediately or refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Preparation: # Cut the avocado lengthwise around the seed. Rotate the halves to separate.
#Remove the seed by sliding the tip of a spoon gently underneath and lifting out.
#Peel by pulling the skin back from the stem end. Or simply scoop the avocado meat out with a spoon.
#Sprinkle all cut surfaces with lemon or lime juice or rub with oil to prevent discoloration until ready to use.

Serving Suggestions: Add sliced avocados and fried tortilla strips to chicken soup seasoned with lime and chile. Slice avocado and add to sautéed fish or chicken dishes just before serving. Make guacamole by crushing firm Hass avocados with lime juice, onion, tomato, chiles, salt, and cilantro. (Leave the pits in the mixture to help retain color.)

Flavor Affinities: Chiles, cilantro, crabmeat, grapefruit, lime, shrimp, tomato, tropical fruits, tuna, vinaigrette.

from Quirk Books: