Here in Brooklyn, there’s a popular Australian coffee shop that does a brisk brunch business catering to folks who seem to come more for the fashionable crowd than for the coffee (which is excellent, though perhaps not as good as that at another Australian-owned spot a few blocks east). Now, it’s a bit of a misnomer to call this cafe’s food offerings a proper brunch, as the menu mainly consists of “toasties,” a quaint-sounding (and quaintly sized) open-faced sandwich. For two dollars extra, one can add a dollop of chunky guacamole to the toast; an additional dollar fifty buys a poached egg, which sits jauntily and wobbly atop the avocado. It’s an almost ridiculously simple concept, and in that sense brilliant from a business perspective: a toastie with avocado and an egg plus coffee can run well over $10, plus tip.
Excellent coffee aside, this is an experience that can be easily replicated in the comfort of one’s own home. Aside from provisioning the right ingredients – fresh bread, ripe avocados, and interesting seasonings – there is almost no labor involved in the creation of an avocado toast. But what, exactly, comprises a good avocado toast? Or better yet, what is the ideal?
The author of one of my favorite blogs recommends a rather rustic approach, in which thick slices of avocado are piled on the bread, then doused with fruity olive oil and sprinkled with jagged bits of sea salt. This is certainly the simplest version, a perfect choice for those operating in a pre-caffeine daze. Although the minimalism of this method highlights avocado’s substantial and sensuous texture, there is something irresistible about the interplay between capsaicin-induced heat, prickly acidity, and the cool, pale green flesh of that strange tropical fruit.
Enter yuzu koshō, a Japanese condiment composed of just three ingredients: chiles (green or red), yuzu peel, and salt. While it’s remarkable on just about anything (traditionally, as an accent for nabemono; less traditionally, dabbed on grilled cheese and scrambled eggs), its perfect match is arguably avocado.
On one particularly frigid morning this winter, when the clouds were hanging low over the Brooklyn rooftops and the seemingly interminable purgatory of March lay far ahead, I opened a jar of yuzu koshō that a Japanese friend had sent in a care package. Olive green in color, with a rustic texture and biting sharpness, it was miles away from anything I’d found in the States. Sampling a tiny spoonful, memories of a summer bicycle trip across Japan’s inland sea — steep island hillsides dotted with citrus groves, days of drenching rain, and windswept bridge decks — came rushing back.
I smashed an avocado with a fork, mixed in a bit of the peppery paste, and spread the whole mess on a piece of crusty, crunchy bread. What could have been an almost ascetic meal — avocado on toast — took on unexpected depth and complexity. Yet there was also a quiet subtlety to the flavors: the silky fruit flesh tamed the elements of citrus, salinity, and heat, mimicking the dulling of sense memory that occurs when one has been gone from a place too long. With each bite, Japan seemed increasingly distant, and my memories of that particular summer dissipated amid present experiences. Perhaps that is the best one can hope for, though: hints of summer’s promise tempered by a gentle reminder that those past will only fade further.
Smashed Avocado with Yuzu Koshō
Here, you definitely want to use the best, most vibrantly green avocados you can find. Personally, I prefer them just a tad underripe, the better to savor the contrast between the rich flesh and the occasional toothsome bits. I’d also recommend tracking down an all-natural yuzu koshō; some varieties are made with sweeteners and thickeners, which tend to result in an unappealing, gluey consistency. (This brand is quite good and generally available at Japanese markets. Of course, as is often the case with condiments, the best option is to make your own.) Otherwise, there’s really no recipe here: smash an avocado with a fork, then mix in enough yuzu koshō to strike the right balance between buttery, fiery, and bright. You can also add a little extra citrus juice or salt, to taste, if you like, or a sprinkle of sesame seeds and/or yuzu shichimi on top. Toast is nice, too, if you’re feeling ambitious. If not, there’s no shame in spooning this stuff directly from the bowl.