Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How to Cook and Eat an Artichoke

What does one do when in a cooking funk? One hopes that artichokes are on sale and then one eats one for lunch.

I'd never had an artichoke until I got married. Oh, sure, I'd had artichoke hearts before--the ones that come out of a can and, truth be told, are pretty awesome even so. But I'd never had a bonifide, spiny-tipped actual artichoke. And then Kip's sister--my mentor in all things vegetable--introduced me to them. When we all lived in CA, she'd buy them from Trader Joe's (and probably still does) and we'd have us an artichoke party. Of course by 'we' I mean she and I. Kip hates artichokes. Or so he says. Or so he thinks. I'm not entirely sure he's ever actually tasted a fresh one, although I know he's coming around to the canned variety (Kip tends to embrace canned goods first; I don't know; it's a sickness.)

Artichokes are wonderful for many reasons. I was going to write a sonnet, but then I didn't. Here are my reasons anyway.

1. They taste good. Really good.
2. When you're eating one you bought fresh, you've got to eat it slowly. It's like the lobster of the vegetable kingdom. You've got to get rid of, or ignore, the tough outer parts so that you can enjoy the rich interior, preferably with butter or mayonnaise.
3. They're low calorie (unless eaten with mayo like I like them best)
4. They have an almost sweet aftertaste. It is the type of flavor all foods will leave in our mouths when we eat in heaven. And now, a story: When I was pregnant (and, no, I'm not pregnant right now), but when I was I hated eating. Oh, I hated it. I had to do it or I'd get sick, but nothing ever sounded good to me and everything left this horrible aftertaste in my mouth that I loathed (chocolate--my beloved chocolate; it was the worst of all). Everything, that is, except artichokes. Artichokes would leave this sweet touch of something on my tongue that just made me want to go around sucking on my mouth for an hour afterwards. When I was pregnant artichokes were the one food I looked forward to and would have eaten constantly if budgetary restrictions had not existed. Truly, it's rather a miracle (and perhaps a bit of husbandly firmness) that one of my children didn't end up named artichoke.

So, yes, I love artichokes and will be loyal to them my whole life long. Unfortunately, they're not exactly cheap (especially for the measly 55 calories they provide). So you want to be able to get the most out of them and to know how to navigate this food of the gods.

To Choose:

Pick one that doesn't look like it's been sitting at your grocery store for 7 years. It should be firm and the tighter the leaves, the better.

To Prepare: 

1. Cut off the bottom of the stalk. Some people cut off the tips of all the leaves as well, but I am WAAAAY too lazy for that.

(Here I cut off a few leaf tips to demonstrate what I mean.)

2. Steam the artichoke. You can do this by using a steaming basket in your pan, or by cooking the artichoke in just a bit of water and leaving the lid on the pan. However, if you go with this second method, be sure that your water doesn't all boil out and burn your artichoke.
3. The artichoke will take a while to steam. It'll take 30-45 minutes depending on its size. Don't worry, it's worth it and you don't have to do anything for it while it steams.
4. It's ready when you can easily pierce the part of the stalk closest to the base with a fork. You can also check it by pulling out one or two of the top leaves. They should dislodge fairly easily.

To eat:

1. I like mine dipped in mayonnaise. I just do. It's the most awesome thing in the world and I'm not going to apologize for it. Some people like to dip them in butter and some people probably just use salt and pepper or something low-cal like that, but I'm really not in that camp.
2. Start at the base of the artichoke and pull off a leaf. You're not going to eat the whole leaf. You will regret it if you do. You're going to dip the base part (the part that was attached to the artichoke) in your mayo/butter if you wish, and then you're going to scrape off any tender artichoke flesh from the interior part of the leaf with your bottom teeth. Don't gnaw at it or try to eat more than your teeth easily remove. With the outer leaves you won't get much--just a bit of tender artichoke flesh on your teeth.

(Okay, so maybe this is too much, but if you click on this picture, you can see how little has been scraped off by my teeth. That's how you do it. )

As a note, some artichokes have a pointy tip for the leaf. Be sure not to put this tip in your mouth because ouch.
3. As you move up and into the center of the artichoke, your teeth will be able to scrape off more and more of the tender flesh. It's actually a really fun way to eat and, like I said earlier, it takes some time, which feels a little indulgent. As you get to the inner leaves, they'll get smaller and more tender. Eventually you'll be able to bite off the bottom bit of the leaf.
4. Eventually all the leaves will be removed and you'll get to a slightly intimidating part of the artichoke that I like to call the hair.

This is the part that Kip cannot handle about artichokes. But don't freak out. Just take a spoon and scoop out the hair, which is attached by follicle-like things. I realize I'm not really selling this to you (yeah, I'm kind of making a purse look like a sow's ear), but I swear it's not a big deal. Just scoop it out.

Get it all. I'm not sure if the hair is edible or not, but I'm pretty sure that to eat it would be about as pleasurable as a barefoot romp in stinging nettle.
5. Once the hair is removed, you've hit the lovely heart of the artichoke.

Maybe this doesn't look like much with my photography skills, but it's after you eat one, you'll always look at them fondly. 

You may compose a sonnet if you wish. And then dip the heart edge by edge in the butter/mayo and bite it off.

It's so good. I'm still sitting here sucking my sweet-after-tasted mouth.
6. Some people eat the stalk. I don't. Mostly because after the heart it seems so stringy and less good. But you could if you wanted to.

This is what you've got left when all is said and done. I told you it was a lot like lobster


  1. You can steam them in the microwave in 8 minutes! You need something to trap the steam (plastic bag if you don't mind the carcinogens), but it's much quicker :)

  2. Oh wow, that's the best thing I've ever learned (well, maybe not quite, but still...)



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...