The Art of Eating Artichokes

October 14, 2013 | By | COMMENTS

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Once upon a time, I Tweeted: “Artichokes: not worth it.”

As with all Tweets like this, it had its share of supporters and detractors. Though I was being tongue-in-cheek, I was also sort of being serious. I hate dealing with artichokes. For my cookbook, the terrific chefs Alex Raij and Eder Montero taught me how to make a gorgeous spring vegetable confit with fava beans and asparagus and lots of green things including the dreaded artichoke. In their kitchen at Txikito, Alex showed me how to cut through the top of the plant, how to trim the stem, how to cut out the choke. When we were done, what looked like a bowling ball suddenly looked like a ping pong paddle. Did it taste good after it was confited? Yes. But was this something I’d really want to do in my own kitchen? Not really. When it comes to artichokes, I’m happy to eat them. But prepping them is the pits.

The weird thing, though, is that all of my artichoke experiences were experiences like this one. See this post from 2006 where I pared an artichoke down to brown it in oil, Mario Batali style. So much work, so little reward. Artichoke-lovers, I was convinced, must be masochists. I even cut my finger on one of these babies that I brought home from that same trip to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market I told you about in my risotto post:

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This was before slicing my hand on the squash. Vegetables are dangerous.

Would I go through the hassle of trimming these all the way down and throwing away all the leaves and stem and chokey bits to yield a minor, little reward for my dinner guests? Not this time! I recalled the shock that Zach Brooks and Luke Matheny expressed on The Clean Plate Club when I told them that I’d never cooked a whole artichoke. Just the normal way, where you don’t do anything except cook it and eat it. That’s what I’d be doing this Wednesday night.

Only, I stuffed them. Using this recipe by Dana Bowen from Saveur (hi Dana). The filling has bread crumbs and garlic and parsley and cheese:

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Prep wise, you just slice the tops and bottoms off the artichokes.

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Then you stuff them with the filling and drizzle them with olive oil.

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Your pour boiling water into the baking dish and then cover everything with foil. This allows the artichokes to braise in the oven; then, after 40 minutes or so, you remove the foil and allow the tops to brown. That’s it.

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No big whoop!

Because I heard someone say recently that the best part about eating artichokes is dipping the leaves in mayonnaise, I made a dipping sauce by stirring mayo together with lemon juice. Then I presented these artichokes to my guests, one each.

Everyone enjoyed the process of pulling off the leaves and dipping them into the mayo and then scraping off the meaty part with their teeth. Where things got tricky is that moment when all the leaves are gone and you have to make your way to the heart. Here’s filmmaker Kyle Patrick Alvarez (a featured guest on the next podcast) attempting to get to his:

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Here’s L.A. Weekly food writer Tien Nguyen (the other guest) attacking hers:

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While Craig wages his own artichoke battle:

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Note the metal bowl: we needed it to collect all the artichoke detritus. Here’s the horror scene on my plate:

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So here’s the deal: that hairy center chokey bit is inedible. And you have to cut it out to expose the heart. If I had to do it all over again, I might’ve cut out the hairy bit before stuffing the chokes. But I’m not even sure how I’d do that. All I know is that artichokes are like relationships with good looking narcissists: it’s a lot of work for a debatable reward.

For some, they’ll defend their good looking narcissist to the grave. “You don’t see his good qualities!” Me? I’m not breaking up with artichokes, per se, but I think we need to see other people. Star-crossed lovers, we are not.

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Categories: Essays

  • Lyn Never

    Slice them longways (top to bottom), scrape out the choke with a sharp little spoon (grapefruit spoon works really well). You can stuff the cut sides, or tie them back together and stuff around the outside as you did – I’d put a wedge of lemon or garlic clove or something in the choke-hole (sorry) before reassembly. They cook faster if you leave them halved, but you don’t get as much stuffing.

  • Anita

    Once you get down to the hairy choke, just scrape it out with a spoon. Really, it comes right out, leaving just the yummy heart. I’m not sure what you guys were doing with knives at all!? I’m with you on prepping artichokes for recipes, just too much work, but to simply slice off the top and stem, then steam and serve with a yummy dipping sauce? That’s hard to beat.

  • cloverleaf

    A very simple dip for the ‘chokes is to add a dash of curry powder to mayo. It’s simplicity balances out the labor of messing with the artichoke.

  • Handy

    I fully agree with Anita on this one! You are missing all of the fun with artichokes– get rid of your knife and fork – dig in with you hands to remove the soft hairy bits and enjoy the heart(y) goodness!! They are full of fibre and minus the mayonnaise/melted butter/oil and vinegar dipping sauce are pretty darn healthy too!

  • katalia

    I’ve been eating, and loving, artichokes my entire life. They are one of my favorite things! I usually just steam them with lemon and garlic in the water, but last week I stumbled upon this recipe, and it is my new favorite recipe ever.

    http://pinchmysalt.com/how-to-roast-whole-artichokes/

    It’s so easy, and the artichokes take on a nutty flavor that is delightful. I made it last night with the smaller artichokes that you can each choke and all … they were to die for. I am going to make them with larger globe artichokes soon. Seriously though, that recipe is amazing.

    P.S. If you are ever up near Monterrey, you should get fresh ones up there. You can get bags of baby ones for like $1 and those are fun to play with because they barely have any choke, and can be sauteed and eaten whole.

    P.S.2. I’ve always just scraped the choke out with a spoon when I got to it. Easy-peasy and worth it.

  • Jules

    Artichokes! They’re by far one of my favorite vegetables. During artichoke season, when you can find the huge globe artichokes at Trader Joe’s for $1 a pop, I regularly eat steamed artichokes for dinner. We steam them in the pressure cooker, which only takes about 20 minutes, no trimming required!

  • Anonymous

    No…not mayonnaise. Hollandaise! A trip to heaven. They are a pain to prep, but a well-cooked artichoke heart is a unique and delicious flavor. Worth the work.

  • Brianna

    I like boiling mine after they’ve been trimmed. Pop them in a pot of boiling water with some lemon slices, peppercorns, a bay leaf or two, and a good bit of balsamic vinegar. Cook until you can easily pull off a leaf towards the bottom. You had the dipping sauce almost right, just add some melted butter next time. And if you’re feeling really fancy, after they’ve been boiled, slice them long ways and throw them on the grill until they’ve got a nice char on them. I love ‘choke season!!

  • Skip

    I’m with Jules: the pressure cooker is the easiest way to cook artichokes, and they don’t come out mushy (unless they’re overcooked.) Trim them if you want to (I don’t bother), season them if you like. Cook for about 12 min for medium chokes, more for the biggies! And personally, I don’t care for the globe ‘chokes.

  • Stephanie Doublait

    I toss out all the stems and leaves and just sautee the hearts with shallots and olive oil….and even though I have a whole trash bag full of trimmings, the reward is worth it! I had a divine pear and artichoke pasta once in Rome that I am still trying to recreate!

  • James in NZ

    I’ve loved artichokes since I was a little kid and my mom would cook them for me as a treat. I was even surprised when one time she served them to adults and they did not know how to eat them! I have several plants in my garden, and have even made pacts with others nearby who grow, but don’t eat, them. And mayo?? No way, vinaigrette!

  • Erin B.

    Ditto James in NZ – my mom and I loved artichokes, and I could expertly remove the hairy choke by the time I was 6, which was the best part: steamed artichoke heart dipped in melted butter. Mmmmm! Well, drat…I’m pregnant, and now all I want is some artichoke hearts at 10 in the morning.

  • Brooklyn Salt

    An artichoke heart is a treasure to dip in to lemon butter sauce and I swear it gives you special powers and immortality. It must after all those layer of work.

  • Amanda

    I love artichokes. I tried doing cooking a whole one when i was younger and couldn’t figure out which part of the artichoke to save. It’s hard to tell from a jar of artichokes which part it comes from haha.

    Maybe i will try again. Dipping the leaves in mayo sounds like a healthier version of a bloomin’ onion and more delicious.

  • Pamela Trefler

    I think you miss the part of the fun of the artichoke. Dipping the leaves and unwrapping the vegetable, is fun, sort of like fondue – it takes time. Then all you do is scrape off the choke (with a spoon) and eat the heart – this is the big reward. But eating an artichoke is fun and yummy, you seem to be missing the fun. Skip the stuffing, it interferes with the fun.

  • Ag

    This breading technique confuses me. How are you supposed to eat it when the edible portion of the leaves is at the other end?

  • Adam Amateur Gourmet

    Good question, Ag. The breadcrumbs kind of fall into the cracks and they make their way down. It also kind of makes a cool edible cap that you can peel off and eat. – AG

  • krseitz

    I love artichokes too! I had the same reaction as others when viewing the photos — whaaat? After plucking and scraping the leaves with your teeth, just pull the chokey stuff out as much as you can and then use a grapefruit spoon to scrape away the rest of the choke. It often comes out in big pieces. Then, with the right artichokes, you have a lot of the yummy heart left to eat…dipped in a sauce of mayo and Dijon mustard blended to taste. You are right that a big bowl on the table is a help for the mess.

  • Kate @ Savour Fare

    Forget the stuffing! I don’t even trim mine – just toss in and steam (10 minutes in the pressure cooker!) Then you eat with your fingers (the knives and forks are dead giveaways) dipped in mayo or melted butter (we usually have both since we’re a 2 dip family) and the choke comes right off with a spoon when you get there. It’s not fancy food.

  • Ttrockwood

    I grew up near monterey- you can buy a bag of approx 5lbs baby artichokes for like $5 or something, they’re really delicious!

    We had artichokes at dinner about on a week- not a trimmed leaf in sight! Just trim the stem (but keep it on- its’s delicious!!) and steamed until tender, served with straight up regular mayo and a good sprinkle of salt. When steamed the choke is so tender you can scrap off with a regular spoon when you get to it.

    Ps
    The best app ever: buy the already prepped regular frozen artichoke hearts, defrost, egg and breadcrumb, bake- serve with hot marinara sauce and the entire party will talk about them. Stupid easy and sooooo good.

  • Elizabeth Baxter Hardin Duckwo

    I say forget the stuffing too. But I do trim the tips of the leaves of the big Globe chokes because of the little “thorn” on the tips, there is something in that little thorn that when it pricks your finger the pain stays for a long time. So just take the scissors or a sharp knife and cut the first inch off the top of the choke, rub the cut with some lemon and toss it in the steamer, cut side up and steam slowly. I leave about a half inch of stem too and then peal it with a regular peeler before steaming. I time my yearly trips to Rome to coincide the choke season, the Romans can do hundreds of wonderful things with artichokes!

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