Guacamole Throwdown: Boris Karloff vs Vincent Price
We live in guacamole-savvy times. Avocados are deployed as shorthand for the foibles of an entire generation, and blithe acceptance of the guac surcharge at chain restaurants is a culturally-accepted statement of financial solvency. But despite its origins in Aztec culture and prevalence in Mexican cuisine, guacamole's ubiquity is a comparatively recent addition to the American menu, enjoying a particular bump in the '90s when NAFTA allowed greater influx of avocados across the border. This might go some way toward explaining why two different masters of classic Hollywood horror—Boris Karloff and Vincent Price—felt compelled to share their favorite guacamole recipes in the middle of the 20th century, complete with a soupcon of exoticism and some rather baffling ingredients. So of course I had to make them face off in a bloody battle royale, just in time for Halloween.
First up: Boris Karloff, idolized by film fans for nearly a century, but especially so for his work in seminal horror movies including the first Frankenstein franchise, The Mummy, The Black Cat, and The Raven, not to mention his stint as the voice of The Grinch. Born in 1887, the British actor had no obvious connection to Mexico and wasn't a celebrated gourmand of his era (he may have been one in private, but sans Instagram, we'll never know). But from time to time—especially around Halloween—a scanned image of an undated newspaper clipping (likely from the '50s or '60s) with the headline "Boris Karloff Mad About Mexican Food" tends to surface on social media, complete with a recipe for "Guacamole Boris Karloff."
It starts with an obligatory riff on how you'd expect Boris Karloff's favorite recipe to involve wolfsbane, ectoplasm, and other creepy ingredients before launching into an explanation of the dish. It reads, in part: "Mexican food is a favorite of this veteran actor and of all his favorites, the special one is Guacamole, an avocado-based sauce he makes in a spicy, tantalizing fashion. Guacamole is served on a bed of lettuce as a salad or with fried tortilla wedges as an appetizer or simply as a sauce."
The "spice" emanates from a single tablespoon of canned green chile and optional dash of cayenne mixed in with two avocados, a small minced onion, a medium tomato (unfussily chopped), a tablespoon of lemon juice, salt, pepper, and—curveball—two teaspoons of sherry. OK, I sorta get it. I've read and cooked a slew of fancypants-ish recipes from the era, and they tend to lean heavily into the stuff, perhaps because it lent a pinky-up element to the whole enterprise, but here, it disappeared. The end product tasted more of crunchy onion than anything else, but not unpleasantly so, and registered more as an undistinguished salsa fresca than anything resembling the creamy dip/condiment/spread (seriously, what the heck is it classified as, and "sauce" is not an option, Boris) we generally accept as guacamole. It was fine.
Next up: Vincent Price. I have a well-documented obsession with the horror icon's culinary life. Though most folks know him best from his star turns in films like House of Wax and House on Haunted Hill, and a slew based on Edgar Allen Poe stories, as well as and voiceovers in the songs “Monster Mash” and “Thriller,” Price was an avid traveler, home cook, and author and penned multiple cookbooks, including the cult classic A Treasury of Great Recipes, published in 1965 and reissued for its 50th anniversary. The thick volume included dishes from Price's favorite restaurants from around the world, as well as those gleaned from folks he met on his travels.
From his headnote: "Elaborate canapes have been the ruination of more dinner parties than bad cooks in the kitchen ever have. We’re against pre-stuffing our guests, and prefer to serve cocktails with a simple dip and crackers that are crisp but without too strong a taste of their own—English biscuits or plain matzoth are perfect. A strongly flavored guacamole, which we learned about in Mexico, goes well with our philosophy, our crackers, and above all with our Mexican den where we gather for a pre-dinner drink."
I have many, many questions about Mr. Price's "Mexican den," but even more pressing ones about his selection of ingredients. He prefers his small onion finely chopped, along with avocado, a fresh green chile (I used a jalapeño since he did not specify), half a clove of minced garlic, a peeled and seeded (tasks optional, but I indulged him) tomato, lemon juice, salt, and optional cayenne, but things take a turn to the seriously spooky from there.
He includes mayonnaise. And Worcestershire sauce. And coriander. In his guacamole. Despite the warnings that the danger was coming from inside my own kitchen, I proceeded and… yeah. If I'd been served this blindfolded, I'd have assumed that someone was shoveling Big Mac Secret Sauce onto my tongue, and that's just horrifying when you've been promised guacamole.
Winner: Boris Karloff.
It wasn't great, but the Price guac was just so, so wrong.