Here’s How: Pick a Ripe Avocado

HERE’S HOW is a series where we share the best useful tips from our cooking adventures. We’ll answer questions before you have them and illuminate food mysteries with a blend of science and legend. Today, we’re talking avocados–how to know when they’re perfectly ripe.

In this week’s vegetarian box, we adorn Grilled Zucchini Tacos with delicious homemade guacamole. If you’ve ever dipped a corn chip into a bowl of fresh guacamole, you know why the dip is so good: it contains avocados, the most satisfying vegetable we know. (It is, however, really a fruit.)

When we send out avocados for Avocado Tartines or Cucumber-Avocado Maki, we make a point to order them “sushi ripe” from our purveyors. That means the avocados arrive ready to eat, soft but not too soft, and exquisitely creamy. Ripe avocados should be stored on the counter and used within two days.

Here’s how to investigate any avocado and tell when it is perfectly ripe. Our goal? That you’ll never try to cut into a hard, under-ripe avocado again.

The Look

You can get your first gauge on the ripeness of an avocado just by looking at it. Here’s how: ripe avocados tend to be darker in color than their lesser-ripe cousins. Hass avocados, the most common avocado at markets in most parts of the United States, have a bumpy dark green skin when under-ripe. As soon as they ripen, that green darkens and becomes almost purple. If you’re looking at a big bin of avocados, start picking up the darkest ones first, to check if they feel ripe. Read on to see how to evaluate on texture.

The Feel

Ripe avocados will feel basically firm to the touch. Pick one up and press lightly on the surface to see if the avocado flesh yields. You should be able to press down and sense a little bit of give.  But not too much! If the avocado feels soft to the point of mushy, it’s over-ripe. Throw it back. If there’s no yield, as in the avocado feels like a rock, skip that one too, or place it on the counter to ripen, and keep reading.

The Prep

You can use ripe avocados in several different ways: sliced on a sandwich, cubed in a salad, or mashed into guacamole. To prep, use a chef’s knife to cut through the stem of the avocado and all around it lengthwise. You won’t be able to cut all the way through because of the pit. Unscrew the avocado to separate the halves. Use a big spoon to scoop out the flesh. Then carefully slice it for Beet-Avocado Salad or Fish Tacos, cube it for topping chili,  or simply mash the avocado in a bowl with a fork or potato masher. A ripe avocado will smush into a guacamole-like texture easily, so if you want intact slices, be gentle.

Ripening

If you accidentally purchase an avocado from your market that isn’t ripe, there are a few tricks to get the vegetable soft and creamy. The first is simply to wait. Push your avocado dinner to later in the week. That may sound low-tech, but this can help with planning, especially if you do all your shopping on Sundays. If you want the avocado ripe sooner, legend has it that storing in a paper bag with a banana will quicken the process!

On the opposite end, if you’re worried about the avocado becoming too ripe, store it in the refrigerator once it’s ripe to freeze the ripening process and preserve it at the perfect ripeness.

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