I think it’s safe to say that now a days spotting an artichoke in the produce isle is not near the rare occurrence it used to be, but how many of us have actually tackled one of these spiky little creatures?
For my family the artichoke has always been a long anticipated spring treat. More reliable than any ground hog, when the artichoke appeared, you knew spring was near! Although it’s spines might be intimidating, it’s sweet, meaty flesh is a more than just reward for your efforts. If you have ever wondered what an artichoke has to offer, here’s a few tips and tricks to make your experience a great one!
Choosing a great artichoke:
The colour should be a bright, leafy green (a bit of purple on some varieties) with as few brown marks as possible. The stems should be firm, and the petals tightly closed. The more open the petals, the more likely a critter has made a home inside.
Be mindful of the thorns, there’s one on the end of EVERY petal. (Regardless of how far you go into the artichoke) Give the artichoke a good wash, pulling off any tiny leaves on the stem itself, these are usually too tough to eat anyways. Cut off the top quarter of the artichoke, this should take care of most of the thorns, though you will need a good pair of scissors to snip the tops of the petals on the bottom 2-3 rows. Some people will recommend dipping them in an ice water and lemon juice bath at this point to prevent oxidization, as long as you work quickly, I don’t find this necessary.
My family’s favourite way of preparing artichokes is to simply steam them, cut top down in a pot with a lid, over water with a few peppercorns and half a lemon. This method takes 20-30 minutes. The artichoke is ready when one of the bottom petals can be pulled off easily with a pair of tongs. Lately I have taken to a slightly fancier way that offers a bit more in presentation. Once the artichoke has been steamed, remove them from the pan and cut them in half vertically. Remove the “choke” from each half and any loose interior petals. (A grapefruit spoon with a serrated edge works perfectly) Brush the cut side lightly with a bit of olive oil and lightly salt and pepper. Grill on a hot BBQ for 6-8 minutes until you have some lovely charring on the surface.
Pull each petal off one by one. At the base of each petal there is a small section of meaty flesh that can be scraped off with your teeth, as you get closer to the center, that section will become larger. Many people like to dip the petal in a variety of sauces. My two favourites are microwave hollandaise sauce (See November of 2012 for the recipe) or a creamy sesame dip (see below) As you approach the center, the petals will become soft and almost entirely edible, but be careful, there are still thorns on those as well! If you did not cut the artichoke and remove the fuzz-like choke before serving, you will have to do so now. A grapefruit spoon still does the best job, and I normally give it a quick rinse in hot water to assure all the choke has been removed. Now comes the very best part: the heart! This chalice shaped piece is so sweet and tender, really no words can describe it! Just dip it in whatever sauce you like (or just a few drops of lemon juice) and you can thank me later!
Hopefully this has spurred you on to try one of these beauties before the season is over. Bon Apatite!
Sesame Dipping Sauce
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 ½ tablespoons liquid honey
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt to taste
Yields sauce for 4 artichokes
Useful Tools for this recipe:
A good, sturdy pair of kitchen shears. I like the Zwilling J.A. Henckels kitchen shears.
A serrated grapefruit spoon. I can’t stress how much easier this makes things!