Monday, March 26, 2012

Cook and Eat an Artichoke in 15 Easy Steps!

Do you love eating artichokes but have no clue how to cook one at home? Have you never tried one before, but are curious about them? Well, then this post is for YOU! I'm going to detail each step so that you can make yourself one of these delicious treats right in your own kitchen. Growing up just a few miles away from where 75% of the world's artichokes are grown (that's Castroville, California for those of you who are curious), I was practically born eating these things. But I realize that many of you are probably not as lucky, and might even be clueless as to what to do with these delicious green globes. For help, please read on, dear reader...
Steps 1/2: My frost-bitten artichokes, not as pretty but still delicious!
1. Pick out your artichokes. Did you know that there are male and female artichokes? The male artichoke has leaves that point straight up, whereas the female artichoke leaves are more rounded and point inwards. Most people have no preference, though I have heard from a chef friend that female artichokes have a better taste. I don't think I can taste a difference. For a fun activity, pick out one of each, and see if your family can tell the difference!

2. But I digress...When you're home and ready to prepare the artichokes, make sure you have at least an hour. Cooking time will vary depending on the size.

3. Cut off most of the stem, or all if you prefer. If you leave some on, be sure to peel it so it will be edible after cooking. The outer bit is tough and fibrous.

4. Cut or peel off the first 2-4 rows of bottoms leaves. These have a bitter taste and are not for eating.

5. Using a sharp knife, cut off the top 2-3" of the artichoke.

6. If you want to get fancy, use scissors to trim the tops of the leaves. No more pointy ends to stab your fingers!
Steps 3/4/5/6: Trimmed artichoke - not more pointy ends!
7. Using a pot that will fit a steamer, put enough water in there so it won't boil off. I've done this before, and besides making your house quite smelly, you risk ruining your pot for good!

8. In the water, put a bay leaf, peeled garlic clove, and a slice of lemon. This will give your 'chokes a nice flavor. If you don't have these things in your kitchen, plain water works just fine.
Steps 7/8: My pot of water, with Bay Leaf, Garlic and Lemon.
9. Place the steamer on top of/in your pot, and bring the water to a boil. Once it starts boiling, cover and reduce heat to simmer. Depending on their size, artichokes will take 35-60 minutes to cook. They are done when you can easily stick a fork into the bottom. I usually test them around 35 minutes, and go from there.
Step 9: In the steamer, simmering away...
10. Remove artichokes from heat, allow to cool slightly. They'll stay hot for a long time, and you want to be able to peel off the leaves with your fingers, after all! You can also make them ahead of time and eat them cold.
Step 10: The cooked artichoke, cooling and ready to eat!
11. When hot, I like to eat artichokes either with melted brown butter, or a mustard vinaigrette. When I'm eating them cold, the same vinaigrette works well, or you can dunk them in mayonnaise or aioli.

12. Not for the other important part: how to eat the darn thing! I did not take photos of the first step, but what you want to do is peel off the leaves one by one. My method is: peel, dunk, bite, discard, repeat. The outer leaves will be pretty fibrous, and the only part you want to be biting off is the fleshy bit on the bottom, where you've torn it off.
Steps 12/13: A partially eaten artichoke. On the left is the base with the inner, softer leaves.
 13. Once you've gotten through the tougher outer leaves, you'll notice that the inner leaves are much softer. At this point, you can bite all the way through the leaf to eat the meaty part at the bottom instead of scraping them like you did with the outer leaves.
Steps 13/14: Soft leaves on the left, the "choke" on the right.
 14. When you've eaten most of the soft leaves, you'll find you can pull off a bunch of them and eat around the bottom edges all at the same time. This is pictured on the left of the photo above. The part that is left (what looks purple in the photo) should be gently cut out and removed. What's under those purplish leaves is a furry part that gives the vegetable it's name - the "choke." This bit is aptly named, and should not be eaten.
Steps 14/15: The edible and delicious artichoke "heart," with the choke removed and discarded.
15. When you've removed the furry choke, you're left with what is called the artichoke heart. This is the base of the plant, and what some people consider the most desirable part. Cut it up into pieces (smaller pieces make it last longer!) and either eat it plain or dunk it into whatever dressing you chose.

And that, my friends, is how you cook and eat an artichoke! I look forward to hearing from you all about how this experiment goes for you in your own kitchens!

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