Like all obsessions, this one started quietly, and then quickly snowballed.
Earlier this year, I was reading “On Vegetables” (Phaidon, $49.95), the fascinating garden-to-kitchen tour guide written by Los Angeles chef Jeremy Fox, and the recipe on page 55 struck a chord.
“Avocado toast is ubiquitous on Southern California menus, and as a result, people like to make fun of it,” he wrote. “But it’s ubiquitous for a reason – California grows a lot of avocados, and also avocado toast can taste really good.”
Yes, it can. Which explains why, when I found myself at the Salty Tart in St. Paul, Minnesota, the following morning, I skipped my usual breakfast sandwich and opted for avocado toast, which is exactly what it sounds like: toasted bread spread with freshly mashed avocado.
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“And then all the things,” explained chef/owner Michelle Gayer, which, in her kitchen, translates into pickled onions, two varieties of radishes, pea shoots, a squeeze of lime and a splash of chile oil.
“And an egg,” she said. “I like an egg on mine because I like an egg on everything. I could eat breakfast for every meal, but that’s just me. Breakfast at dinner, that’s my favorite.”
Same here. Approaching this green tartine as her canvas, Gayer’s lively, open-faced inspiration tasted as good as it looked, and it launched a new habit: seeking out avocado toast, and documenting my findings on Instagram.
Finding examples wasn’t difficult. Suddenly, it seems, avocado toast is everywhere.
Quickly logging more than a dozen installments, I should have reached avocado toast overkill by now, but I haven’t. Instead – thanks to the informal tutorials I’ve received from several local chefs – I’m now making avocado toast at home. It’s a snap.
TIPS FROM THE EXPERTS
John Kraus, chef/owner of Patisserie 46 and Rose Street Patisserie, both in Minneapolis, said that a peak-performance avocado toast is nothing without a solid foundation.
“I think a good avocado toast starts, obviously, with good avocados, with a touch of salt and pepper and lemon juice,” he said. “But to me, more importantly, it starts with good toast.”
Spoken like a true baker, right?
To reach avo toast nirvana, Kraus prefers a multigrain. Gayer likes a not-too-crusty sourdough, and Beth Fisher, consulting chef at the French Meadow Bakery & Cafe in Minneapolis, uses a seeded loaf. She also advocates for taking a thick approach to slicing.
“A half-inch, or more,” Fisher said. “It has to be like Texas toast.”
Gayer cautioned on the fickleness of the perfectly ripe avocado (“That’s a game, all on its own, the juggling ripeness game,” she said) and the importance of hitting the right amount of acidity.
“Sometimes that’s a good vinegary pickled vegetable, or fresh lemon or lime juice, right on top, right before you eat it,” she said.
Textural contrasts are important, too.
“You need to add a little crunch,” Fisher said. “Sesame seeds, which makes it a little tahini-like, or pepitas. Or roasted chickpeas, to add extra protein. And sea salt. And that’s about it.”
BACK TO THE COOKBOOK
For a basic template, I returned to Fox. When it comes to bread, he prefers pain de mie – a sturdy, rectangular white loaf – cut an inch thick.
His recipe requires four slices, along with two avocados, 1 tablespoon olive oil (plus extra for brushing the toast), and 1 tablespoon each of toasted flaxseeds and toasted sunflower seeds.
It also calls upon a room-temperature tapenade fashioned from sea moss and garlic confit (“I personally find that black olive tapenade can be overpowering,” he wrote), but aside from the distinct difficulty of procuring sea moss in landlocked Minnesota, the process is too complicated for this last-minute cook.
I substitute whatever vegetables I have in the refrigerator, because improvisation is a quality that I value in avocado toast. Although, really, I should be preparing more of my own condiments. Someday.
Here’s the process Fox recommends:
“Toast the bread in a toaster or a toaster oven, or brush it with olive oil and toast it in a preheated cast iron skillet over medium heat. Once toasted, season the bread lightly with kosher salt.
“While the bread is toasting, scoop the avocados into a bowl. Add olive oil and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mash it with a fork until chunky but spreadable. Spread the avocado mixture over the toast and arrange toppings.”
For those toppings, Fox uses a half cup of that tapenade, along with 36 cherry tomatoes – halved and placed cut-side up – plus those toasted sunflower seeds and flaxseeds. The finishing flourishes are edible flower petals (he likes calendula) and a few flakes of sea salt.
Yeah, it’s that easy. Me? I’d add an egg. Scrambled and sunny side up are both fine options. Gayer prefers poaching.
“Like soft-boiling, in the shell,” she said. “Then we heat them to order, and remove the shell. The yolk holds together, but it still has that little bit of creamy.”
One last note: I like to follow Kraus’ example and call upon whatever green vegetables are in season – zucchini, peas, cucumbers, edamame, asparagus, green onions – to enhance the avocado’s distinctive color.
Finally, Kraus, Gayer and Fisher all agree that avocado toast is popular. Hugely popular.
“If we were to take it away, I think it would make people very angry,” said Kraus with a laugh.
“We sell a ton,” Gayer said. “It’s ridiculous. In a good way.”
When Fisher introduced it on the menu at the French Meadow, the cooks – primarily Ecuadorean expats – were hardly true believers, to put it politely.
“It was very foreign to them,” she said with a laugh. “You know, ‘Avocados? On toast? Those crazy Americans.’
“Teaching them how to make it was hilarious, because they were so skeptical when I would tell them that they wouldn’t believe how many we would sell. And we do.
“It’s one of our best-selling items.”