Saturday, May 10, 2008

How to Cook / Eat an Artichoke

This is a blog about cakes.

This is a post about Artichokes.

Oh how I love thee.. thine leaves of rich, delicate yummyness. Thine hair of a spineyness to be avoided. Thy leaves able to destroy a garbage disposal.. (as you might be able to tell, I'm not so good at the Shakespearian whateverspeak)
A good artichoke is a wonderful thing.
And living in the Salinas valley is even more wonderful, because this is the land of strawberries, garlic, and the vegetable many are afraid of.. artichoke!

Do you see this still steaming flower of beauty? Do you see the plate it is on? THAT IS A DINNER PLATE. This is the largest artichoke I have ever seen. *snoopy-like dance of joy* And it was 2 for $3! Sweet! I love artichoke season! (And the artichoke festival is coming up, we might actually go this year!)

Have you never had an artichoke? Is it because you have no idea how to prepare and eat one? Or because you live in a sad desolate land of sadness which does not have them often?
If it's the former, I suggest out go out to the store and buy yourself some, for I am going to try to make you brave! If it is the latter, I suggest you move to somewhere that sucks less.

What does it taste like?

This is a hard question to answer, because they are so unique, and I honestly can't think of a comparison that is really fair. If you have had pickled artichoke hearts, you might have an idea of the flavor, but really, just as a pickle tastes nothing like a cucumber.. same thing with pickled artichoke hearts.. canned as well for that matter. You're really just going to have to try one for yourself.

Purchasing an artichoke:
Artichokes come in many sizes, if you don't live in California, I have been lead to believe that your selection is smaller - literally - but the size rarely matters, it's all about the leaves. And funnily enough, to a point - the uglier the leaves are, the better. Now don't take that to the extreme, listen to what I have to say first.
A perfect artichoke, with unblemished green leaves isn't always the best choice - you see, for whatever reason, a little frostbite is *good* for the choke's flavor, frostbite causes brown patching on the leaves - not holes, not bruising, but slight discolouration. So seeing frostbite isn't bad. If I see a pile of artichokes, I go for the uglier ones in general.

You want the leaves to be just *slightly* opening, not flayed open, and not super tight and closed. Some say you should do a "squeek" test - sweeze the leaves together and if it squeeks, you're good. I just go by looks myself.


Chop off the stem about an inch down from the base of the artichoke.

Most artichokes have spines at the tips of their leaves, if you like, take a big knife and shave off the tips of the leaves, you're only going to be eating the stuff near the stem, so you don't need to worry about wasting leaves, just shave off the last cm or so of leach leaf - you can also use kitchen shears. I don't usually bother doing this, but sometimes those spines are quite sharp!
Now, I've only ever cooked artichokes two ways - steaming or boiling. I've noticed no difference in the product of the two, and boiling is faster - so that's what I usually do.
Boiling: Get a pot large enough that you can cover the artichoke with water, and the water has room to boil. Lid is optional. The artichoke will float, so just make sure it's well submerged, stem down if you can get it to stay down. Boil.
Steaming: Need a pot large enough to hold the whole artichoke and a lid. Make sure you watch the water level as you cook since artichokes take FOREVER to cook, you might need to add to the water periodically.

I like to add herbs to the water for either method - my favorite is to add a bay leaf or two. Today i added Herbs de Provence (I don't know what all is in it except for rosemary and it smelled good :p ). As you eat them more you'll figure out what you may want to add to add flavor - plain is perfectly fine as well.

For either method - you cook for, generally, 45 minutes. Check at 30 minutes, and then every 15 or so. To tell if it's done, reach in (with your hand or tongs, depending on your bravery) and pull on a leaf. If it pulls away rather easily, that's good, if you pull and it starts to lift the whole flower out of the water, forget it and come back 15 minutes later. If you do get a leaf off - let it cool, and then eat it (see directions below) if the meat comes off easily, and is tender, not hard, you're good - take the artichoke off the stove and out of the water and let drain. If not, again, just come back and try again later.

Preparing to eat:
You will need:
a plate - to put the artichoke on
a bowl - to put the eaten leaves in, generally a small salad bowl size
a dipping sauce of your choice
a fork
a napkin or three

Dipping sauce:
Lots of choices here. I grew up using mayo, and I know many people use melted butter. This is going to be a personal preference thing. If you like mayo on your broccoli, I'd try that first. If you hate mayo - try butter.
Recently a friend told me to try mixing a *little* bit of basalmic vinegar in with the mayo - yowie, it's good!


First, peel off the first layers of leaves from the outside. You'll notice that they come away with stringness at the base. You want to peel away until the strinyness is no more.

Now you've got tasty, edible meat at the base of your leaves. Pull leaves away one by one, as you eat them, and dip the end in your sauce of choice, just a bit, a whole lot - tha of course is up to you.

Now turn the leaf so that the inside is down and the outside is up, you are going to use your bottom teeth to scrape away the meat. Place the leaf about an inch into your mouth, and bite down. Scrape the bottom with your bottom teeth - lightly, don't scrape too hard or you'll get a mouth full of fibrous yuck. Don't scrape with your top teeth, the outside's no good either.

And that's it! you're eating an artichoke.
It'll take a while to figure out how to maximize the meat you get without eating yuck.
Continue to eat leaves until you get to the middle leaves - you'll notice as you go that the leaves get more and more delicate (and the tips often get sharper and sharper). Once you're at the point where you can't get meat off the leaf without biting off a chunk of leaf - stop.

Take hold of the center leaves and pull them away (experienced eaters can try eating the meat off of these all at once).

Now you'll see the spiney center - artichokes are thistles, you know. To get to the best part, the heart of the artichoke, you need to get rid of these spines.
I saw an episode of Good Eats where Alton told viewers to take a knife and cut away the artichoke with the spines, which you can do - but it's sooo wasteful of goodness. Instead, take your fork in hand, and use it at an angle to scrape the spines away at their base. This will take practice, and is really messy 'till you know what you're doing, hence the napkins.

Once you've delt with all of those spines, turn the heart over and scrape away the stringly fiberous outside with your fork. I leave the stem, since it's a huge pain to get off.

Now you can eat the meat of the heart, fork it and enjoy! It's exactly the same as the stuff you were eating off of the leaves, just in large chunks! (as a child i REFUSED to eat the hearts, I was a moron)

I hope that someone out there reads this and tries (and loves) an artichoke because of me.

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