Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How to Cook (and eat) an Artichoke

We all love spinach artichoke dip, yes?

But have you ever eaten a real, live artichoke?

Ok, maybe it's not alive. But it's fresh! And all in one piece and not smothered in cheese. Wait, why are we doing this again?

Oh right, the butter.

I grew up eating artichokes. My mom would serve them from every time she found good ones at the store and my sister and I always thought of them as special treats. Picking off the leaves one by one, dipping them in delicious, salty butter, and then shoving the mangled mess at my mom to clean the creepy hairy heart. It was like the seafood-hating, child-friendly version of picking crabs or lobsters (which totally creeps me out. They have eyes! And yes, I know cows and chickens have eyes at some point too, but I'm not the one tearing apart their bodies with my own two hands, and if I was, I would probably be a vegetarian).

You're probably aware that artichokes have hearts. You can buy them already nicely prepared canned, frozen, or jarred. But did you know that they're hairy. Don't panic. I'm here to help.

How to Cook (and eat) an Artichoke

Step 1: Pick a good one.
Look for medium- to large-sized artichokes. They should be a nice green color, on the lighter side, with few brown spots. The leaves should be nice and tightly closed. Pick up one artichoke for each person.

Step 2: Clean and Prep.
Rinse the artichokes in cool water. Cut the bottom inch off the stem. Using a serrated knife, cut the top inch or so off the artichoke. This will take off the sharp points on the very top leaves. Using a sharp pair of kitchen scissors, snip off the pointy tips from the rest of the outer leaves (Check out the picture at the top of this post for what they should look like when they're prepped).

Step 3: Cook 'em up.
Place a metal steamer basket in the bottom of a large pot. Add enough cold water to fill the bottom of the pot, but not enough to come through the holes of the steaming basket. Add artichokes and cover. Bring water to a boil, and reduce heat to medium or medium-low (basically you want the water to continue to produce steam but not completely boil away before the artichokes are cooked. If you find that that is happening, just add more water). Steam for about 25 minutes for medium artichokes, or until you can easily pierce the stem with a sharp knife.

Step 4: Eat!
Eating artichokes is a bit of a process but a fun one. I think they're best served as an appetizer. And with lots of napkins.

First, remove the lowest, outer leaves and discard them.

Then, starting with the bottom layer, pick off a leaf.

See that little meaty section at the bottom? That's the good stuff. I like to dip that bottom portion in salted butter or sprinkle it with just a flake or two of sea salt (or you can just eat it plain).

Use your top front teeth to scrape off the "meat."

Be careful not to bite too far up the leaf; you just want that little 1/2 inch lump at the bottom.

Toss the leaf in your throw away pile.

Keep working until you get to about here.

These leaves will be thin and wimpy. Pull off all the small thin leaves until you reach the heart.

Step 5: Cleaning the heart.
First, cut off any of the stem that's remaining at this point. Then, starting from the outer edge, using a spoon or a small paring knife, scrape out the tiny leaves that form that pyramid on the top, until you've exposed the "hair."

Continue to scrape from the outer edge, removing the hair as you go. If you're using a knife, I like to run it through a folded napkin as I go, to catch all the discarded hairs 

Keep on going. When I was little, I always had my mom do this for me. I had an irrational fear that these little hairs were sharp and would stab my little fingers. Plus, I was lazy.

Finally, (and you'll get faster the more times you do it) you get a nice clean heart.

I like to trim away some of this green stem on the side too.

Now dip this whole little lovely in moooore butter and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

1 comment:

  1. yes i love artichokes...but what i love even more are the pictures that cut off the top of your head so that only your little teeth are showing...you look like a very cute beaver.

    Great photography Dan!


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