The avocado in Ireland: devil’s fare or delicious import? Food editor TRISH DESEINE decides …
Growing up in Co Antrim, “avocado pears” as they were known back then, came in deadly green fans of waxy flesh lurking under a bright pink prawn cocktail at the hotel carvery. “Deadly” because my mother is allergic to them, and they were treated with absolute fear and mistrust by all of us. This meant that the first time I tasted avocado was when I was 17 and finally released into the wild in France, in the early 1980s.
The firm, creamy chunks lay (unknown to me, as my meal was ordered for me by my gourmet French hosts, Monsieur et Madame “Try this!” at the base of a sumptuous poached langoustine, fresh crab and grapefruit coupe with layers of shredded lettuce and a thick, peppery, pale pink cocktail sauce. All this deliciousness was housed in a long-stemmed crystal glass the size of a small bucket – the sort I would soon be sipping champagne cocktails from while dodging multiple skewers of fresh fruit and paper parasols. It is only one of so many culinary initiations France allowed me, and I was most relieved to realise I had not inherited my mother’s allergy.
Since then, avocados mostly turned up in my uneven attempts at Mexican cooking, until, hungover, “avocado toast and poached eggs” jumped out from the breakfast menu of the then newly-opened Dean Street Townhouse in Soho, London, over ten years ago. It had been made fashionable in Australia by chef Bill Granger and this was the first time I had encountered it. It’s one of those dishes you have never tasted before but can immediately feel in your palate and just know will be perfect. One bite in, and I was hooked. Considering my love of cold butter on hot toast, I guess this was predictable, but it was something I’d eat in hotels, and it’s only recently that avocados have come to regularly oust porridge or bacon and eggs in our house to start our day.
Sadly, on the ever-spinning roulette wheel of “Which Food is Evil This Week” avocados are currently The Devil’s Fare. This is due to the unethical and unsustainable way they are now intensively produced in countries like Mexico and Chile, in order to keep up with global demand. The gradual evolution of the avocado as a grocery staple worldwide is contributing to illegal deforestation and environmental damage as well as destabilising farmers’ livelihoods as they switch from traditional crops to the more lucrative green pears. But are avocados worse than a carcinogenic rasher? Or a never-seen-the-light-of-day hen’s egg? Or a hidden-sugar pumped slice of bread? Or a bowl of porridge full of “cruel” milk from a Holstein slave cow with a docked tail and a deformed skeleton? All these choices are, frankly, a lot to handle of a morning before taking even a sip of my impeccably bred West Cork coffee (that, at least, gives me peace of mind until the next coffee scandal) so before I resort to Solyent Green I’m going to treat my avocados like my steak – I’ll buy fewer of them and the best quality and ripeness I can. Besides, largely ignoring the increasingly puritanical attitudes to how we feed ourselves just about everything, allows me much more creative headspace to work out just how I am going to fix my avocado toast. How do you like yours?
Crunchy Avocado Toast with spicy relish, radishes and tarragon
This is avocado base camp in our kitchen, and from here, the winding path to the top of the mountain can be dotted with crème fraîche or feta as an avo cushion and mint instead of tarragon, or fresh, grated carrot with orange and sumac, gomasio or za’atar, or a soft boiled egg with a spicy nutty pesto and/or capers or good cornichons.
Dreaming of next morning’s breakfast when you find your perfectly ripe avocado is wonderful with a fridge well stocked in condiments. Perhaps the most perfect of those is White Mausu’s fabulous, fiery, peanut rayu, and I can’t wait until their much-awaited new products hit West Cork stores. In any case, build your own combination by thinking in layers of taste and texture – fresh crunch + heat + grassy herbs + spiky acidity – on top of the warm bread and buttery avocado.
Speaking of bread, I’m not a fan of thick-crusted bread for avocado toast. It’s just too much work to cut it with teeth or cutlery leaving the toppings in a mess on the plate or worse, on your t-shirt, or worse still, on your lap. I find sourdough can often have a few too many holes to be an efficient avo foundation and I prefer my toast from a softish loaf I’d slice myself. A decent, tasty granary sliced pan will often do very well. Brioche I find way too sweet and soft, but give me a decent muffin or a sliced-in-two-widthways soda farl any day.
For 2. 5 minutes preparation
• 2 slices of good granary bread • 1 garlic clove (or 1/2 tsp garlic powder) • 1 large avocado • 1 tbsp lime juice • Salt and pepper • Chili flakes or lazy chili (optional) • 2 tsps relish or chutney (this is Sheridan’s classic chutney in the image) • 2 or three radishes, sliced thinly • 1 tbsp fresh tarragon
1. Start by mashing the avocado, seasoning as you go with lime juice, chili, salt and pepper.
2. Then toast the bread and rub it with the garlic clove sliced in two. If you are using garlic powder, simply add it to the avocado with the rest of the seasoning.
3. Spread the mashed avocado on the bread, top with radishes, garnish with the tarragon and serve.
Fresh crab, prawn and avocado cocktail
You can imagine the disappointment when, upon my return to Ballyclare from France full of my fancy ideas, I tried to recreate the gorgeous Brasserie du Théàtre’s majestic cocktail with tinned crab, frozen, foreign prawns and, of course, no avocado. Thankfully the Thousand Island dressing saved the day, and despite its lowly ingredients, for me, it always does.
And how wonderful it is that, with a bit of effort, we can now get our hands on unpasteurised local crab meat and still-twitching prawns in Ireland, before they are all packed off to France to feed visiting Irish girls.
For 2. 45 minutes preparation
• 12 – 16 fresh prawns (langoustines), poached or steamed, cooled and peeled (keep two in their shells for garnish) • 1 plain or Little Gem lettuce, washed, chopped into 1 cm width strips (make them mouthful friendly) • 300g fresh crab meat at room temperature • 1 large, ripe avocado, cut into chunks, tossed in a little lime juice • 1 medium pink grapefruit, peeled, quartered, segments removed and cut in half.
Thousand Island dressing
• 4 tbsps full fat Hellman’s mayonnaise • 1 tbsp Heinz ketchup • 1 tbsp red pepper, diced very finely • 2 tbsps fresh lime juice • Cayenne pepper or paprika (for dressing and garnish) • Salt and pepper to taste
1. Blend together the ingredients for the dressing with a spoon.
2. Assemble the cocktails in two large bowls or glasses, starting with the lettuce tossed with the avocado, then the grapefruit, followed by the crab. Spoon on most of the dressing and press the prawns onto it, finishing off with a final drizzle of dressing, a garnish of paprika or Cayenne pepper and a dramatic prawn with claws pulled back and piercing the tail.
3. Mix before eating, making sure you dig right down to the bottom for the avocado.
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