Sunday, April 20, 2008

How to Clean, Cook, and Eat an Artichoke

It's peak artichoke season, and I don't want you to miss out. So if you've ever wondered how to select, clean, cook, or even eat an artichoke, then you've come to the right place.

artichoke with Meyer lemons

Virtually 100% of US artichokes are produced in California. The vast majority of artichokes for sale at supermarkets are Globe artichokes which are conical in shape with rather pointy leaves and weigh about one pound. The Big Heart artichoke is available at local farmers' markets and specialty markets such as Whole Foods. Though similar in taste to a Globe, the Big Heart weighs closer to two pounds, has rounder, thicker leaves (and a bigger heart, of course).

big heart and globe artichokes
Big Heart artichoke on left and Globe artichoke on right

Food Blogga Artichokes 101

How to select an artichoke:

  • Look for green or purple-tinged leaves that are as tight as a fist.
  • White or brown streaks indicate frost-bite or wind burn; they're edible, but not as pretty.
  • Place it in your hand; it should feel heavy for its size.
  • Squeeze it; the fresh leaves should squeak. If its spongy, put it back.
  • If the leaves or overly dry, splayed, or pitted, skip it.
How to clean an artichoke:
  • Lay the artichoke on its side on a sturdy cutting board.
cutting off the stem
  • Using a sharp, heavy knife cut off the stem right to the bottom of the artichoke.
cutting off the top
  • Then cut of the top 1/4 of the artichoke.
  • Pluck off any discolored or damaged leaves.
trimming the leaves with scissors
  • Using kitchen shears, trim the tips of all of the leaves until they are straight.
separating the leaves
  • Using your thumbs, gently pull the leaves apart until the center is exposed.
cleaning the cavity
  • Using your hands pull out the prickly, purple tipped leaves and discard.
removing the fuzzy choke
  • Using a small spoon, scoop out the fuzzy choke and discard.
clean artichoke cavity
  • The cavity should be smooth now.
a good lemon rub
  • Rub the entire artichoke with a lemon half to prevent it from oxidizing, or turning brown, and squeeze some juice into the cavity of the artichoke.
a good lemon squeeze

  • If using the stems (they're wonderful in stuffing), then remove the fibrous outer part.

trimming the stem
  • Slice into strips of equal length.
dicing the stem
  • Dice and then sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown.
How to cook an artichoke:
  • If stuffing, then fill the cavity half way with stuffing. Using your hands, fill each leaf with about 1/2-1 teaspoon stuffing, starting at the outermost leaves and working towards the center. Recipe: Mom's Italian Stuffed Artichokes
  • I prefer to steam artichokes in a large pot of water seasoned with lemon and olive oil for 45 - 75 minutes (stuffed) or 30 -45 minutes (unstuffed), or until leaves are tender. Steaming renders the artichoke moist and tender.
  • Artichokes can be roasted or grilled, though I have found them to be less tender and moist. It's a good idea to par-boil them first before roasting or grilling which helps them retain more moisture.
  • Artichokes are cooked when you can easily pull out a leaf (too much tugging means it needs more cooking). You can also get a long, think knife and insert it into the center of the artichoke; it should easily go through to the heart.
  • Remember that the larger the artichoke (like the Big Heart variety), the longer the cooking time.
How to eat an artichoke:

artichoke plucking
  • Pluck a leaf from the artichoke.
lifting the leaf
  • Grip it with two hands, and place it flesh side down against your bottom teeth.
Mmmmm...this is good
  • Scrape the artichoke "meat" off. If it doesn't come off easily, then it needs to be cooked more. No amount of chewing will help. Trust me.
  • Place the eaten leaf in a bowl.
an eaten leaf

  • Work your way toward the tender inner leaves.
Slicing an artichoke heart
  • Thinly slice the artichoke heart, then eat it, patiently, savoring every buttery mouthful.

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