We've partnered with California Avocados to share recipes that embrace the California approach to cooking fresh and local. For chef Robbie Wilson of Bird Dog in Palo Alto, that means letting the flavors of simple ingredients shine through. The following is an interview with Wilson, as told to Food52.
When we talk about California cuisine, it's hard to nail down because it's not even regional—it's micro-regional. Just like the food of Liguria, Italy is different from the food of Rome, a plate of food in Los Angeles doesn't look anything like it does in San Francisco. There are influences from different cultures, different vibes, and exposure to different produce.
Up here on the Peninsula, we're spoiled. We've got multicultural influences like flavors from Japan and Vietnam. We've got farmers coming to our back door saying, "Look, I have all these cherries. I don't know what to do with them. Can you take them?" The ocean is seven miles away, and I drive by redwoods on my way to work.
This wood-grilled avocado dish in particular feels like everything that makes this area great. When it comes to fruit, there's nothing more California than an avocado. Then we grill it over red oak, which are trees we have up here. The pièce de résistance is the ponzu, because you could dip anything in that and make it taste good. Our food's highly acidic because we're kind of in a citrus belt, so to speak. Ponzu is half citrus and half soy, and then we macerate seaweed in it to flavor it. We also incorporate fresh wasabi, which grows about 20 minutes away from the restaurant in Half Moon Bay. It smells Japanese, it tastes like Japan, but everything about this dish is California.
If you're making the dish at home, just make sure your grill is hot enough. You need a char because that char equals flavor—I'm looking for awesome Sharpie grill marks. The grilling changes the texture a little bit, too. Once you start to heat it up, it gets a little crispy on the outside from the sear and the smoke, and the inside starts to melt and soften a little bit. It tastes really unctuous and even more fatty than let's say, a room temperature one. And that's all incumbent upon what you start with, in terms of texture. Use avocados that are on the firmer side, as opposed to super-soft, ripe ones. If you're not lucky enough to have a farmer cherry-pick one for you, I would err on the side of hard and just wait for it to get (firm) ripe.
For the avocado:
- 4 California Avocados
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated wasabi or horseradish
- 1 recipe ponzu sauce or good-quality store bought
- Salt and pepper, to taste
For the ponzu sauce:
- 1 piece kombu seaweed (3 x 2 inches) or 1 piece konbu (3 x 2 inches)
- 1-1 1/2 cups bonito flakes (katsuobushi)
- 3/4 cup soy sauce, plus 2 tablespoons
- 3/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/3 cup mirin, plus 1 tablespoon
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
For More Grilled Recipes
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To bring you fresh, feel-good summer recipes, we've partnered with the California Avocado Commission in celebration of this versatile and oh-so delicious green fruit (yes, it's a fruit!). California Avocados spend over a year growing in the state's ideal climate (plenty of sunshine and cool ocean breezes). You'll know a California Avocado is ready to eat (or cook with!) when it yields to gentle pressure in the palm of your hand. Just make sure not to poke it with your fingertips—nobody wants a bruised avocado on their plate!