Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Artichoke: What Is It and How Do I Cook It?

Fresh Artichoke
The artichoke has been around since Ancient Greece flourished, but it’s still a mystery to many.

Technically an artichoke is a thistle.  Some actually have thorns on the outer edge of each leaf.  Be careful not to stab yourself while handling them.  Cut off the thorns with scissors.

To cook an artichoke, boil or steam it first for about 35-50 minutes, depending on size, and then set it upside down in a colander on the sink to drain and cool.  Too much boiling makes everything mushy, but too little means the edible parts will be tough to chew.  An artichoke is ready to eat when a thick bottom leaf can be pulled off without using force, and the ‘meaty’ part of the leaf is soft.

Cooked Artichoke
As for the stem, you can leave it on while cooking since the inside is edible.  If you serve an artichoke whole, cut off the stem and serve it on the side.  If you serve half an artichoke, leave the stem on.  It makes for a dramatic presentation. 

There probably should be etiquette lessons on how to eat an artichoke.  My favorite way to eat one is whole – or if it’s very large I’ll cut it in half.  If you tackle the whole artichoke, set it upright on a plate, pull off one of the outermost leaves near the bottom and dip the edge of the leaf into a small bowl of melted butter, hollandaise sauce or vinaigrette dressing.  Put it in your mouth and scrape off the ‘meaty’ part off with your teeth.  Discard and start on the next leaf.

Note 'choke' (fibrous area) just below leaves
Continue until you reach the inner part of the artichoke, where the dreaded ‘choke’ lies.  The ‘choke’ is a mass of inedible fibers that you need to cut out or scrape away and discard.  Just below these fibers is the heart, which is the best part of the artichoke.  Dip it into the sauce.  You can do the same with the stem.

'Choke' removed
Some people like to remove the ‘choke’ and stuff their artichokes with breadcrumbs or ground meat, but to me that dilutes the artichoke flavor—plus it’s a lot more work.

Artichoke hearts are sold in cans or frozen.  You can also buy them in jars, marinated in oil.  But none of these options really taste like fresh artichokes.

How to buy a fresh artichoke: Some artichokes have purplish leaves while others are pure green.  Sizes vary—from baseballs to softballs.  Avoid artichokes with brown, withered leaves.  The artichoke pictured here is also called a globe artichoke.  There is another vegetable called a Jerusalem artichoke, also known as a sunchoke, which looks more like a skinny, knobby potato or a piece of fresh ginger.  It’s handled in a different way altogether.

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