I can imagine, that if you didn’t grow up eating artichokes and if you were encountering them for the first time, they might seem a little intimidating!
How one cooks and eats an artichoke is not obvious from its appearance.
The artichoke is actually the bud of a thistle—a flower. The leaves (called “bracts”) cover a fuzzy center called the “choke”, which sits on top of a meaty core, called the “heart”.
The heart is completely edible (and amazingly delicious). The fuzzy choke is too fibrous to eat in regular artichokes, but edible in baby artichokes. All but the innermost leaves are tough and you have to scrape them with your teeth to eat the tender parts.
How to cook artichokes
You can boil, grill, braise, or stuff and bake artichokes. But my favorite way to cook artichokes, and the easiest way to cook them, is to steam them. I find that boiling artichokes tends to water-log them, but steaming artichokes cooks them with just the right amount of moisture.
The following is a method I’ve been been using to steam artichokes for more than 30 years. I add a bay leaf, some garlic, and a slice of lemon to the steaming water to infuse the artichokes with even more flavor.
You can steam artichokes on the stovetop or in a pressure cooker. A pressure cooker will cook the artichokes faster, but you do have less control over the outcome, and it’s easy to over-cook them.
How to choose which artichokes to buy
Here are a few guidelines for what to look for when shopping for artichokes:
- Choose artichokes that feel heavy when you pick them up. If they feel light, they’re probably a bit dried out and not as meaty as they should be.
- If you squeeze the artichoke, the leaves should “squeak”. This is another way you can tell the artichoke is fresh.
- The leaves should be closed with just a little separation, not flayed wide open. Remember an artichoke is a flower bud, as it ages, the leaves open up. So an artichoke with wide open leaves may be on the old side.
- “Frost kissed” is a-okay. If an artichoke looks like it has been burned by frost, no worries. In fact, these less-than-beautiful artichokes can taste even better than those not touched by frost and often command a premium price because of it.
How to Cook and Eat an Artichoke
- 1 or more large globe artichokes
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, cut in half (can leave skin on)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 slice of lemon
How to Cook an Artichoke
1 Cut of the tips of the leaves: If the artichokes have little thorns on the ends of their leaves, take a kitchen scissors and cut off the tips. This step is mostly for aesthetics as the thorns soften with cooking and pose no threat to the person eating the artichoke. But snipping them off will make the artichokes easier to handle.
2 Slice off the top of the artichoke: Slice about 3/4 inch to an inch off the tip of the artichoke. A serrated bread knife works great for this.
3 Remove small leaves at the base: Pull off any smaller leaves towards the base and on the stem.
4 Cut off excess stem: Cut off excess stem, leaving up to an inch on the artichoke. The stems can be more bitter than the rest of the artichoke, but some people like to eat them. The inner cores of the stems taste like the heart.
Alternatively you can leave the whole long stem on the artichoke, just cut off the very end of the stem, and peel the tough outside layer of the stem with a vegetable peeler.
5 Rinse the artichokes: Rinse the artichokes in running cold water. While you rinse them, open up the leaves a little so that the water gets inside more easily. (This is where it helps to have cut off the thorny tips, it makes the artichoke easier to open without getting poked!)
6 Set up a pot with some water, aromatics, and a steaming basket: In a large pot, put a couple inches of water, the garlic, a slice of lemon, and a bay leaf (this adds wonderful flavor to the artichokes). Insert a steaming basket.
7 Steam the artichokes: Place artichokes on top of the steaming basket. Cover the pot. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer.
Cook for 25 to 35 minutes or longer, until the outer leaves can easily be pulled off.
Note: artichokes can also be cooked in a pressure cooker (about 5-15 minutes at high pressure). Cooking time depends on how large the artichokes are. The larger, the longer they take to cook.
How to Eat an Artichoke
Artichokes may be eaten cold or hot, but I think they are much better hot. They are served with a dip, either melted butter or mayonnaise. My favorite dip is mayo with a little bit of balsamic vinegar mixed in.
1 Pull off the leaves and dip: Pull off the outer leaves, one at a time. Dip the white fleshy end in melted butter, a vinaigrette, or sauce.
2 Place light end in mouth, dip side down, pull, scraping through your teeth: Tightly grip the other end of the petal. Place in mouth, dip side down, and pull through teeth to remove soft, pulpy, delicious portion of the petal. Discard remaining petal.
Continue until all of the petals are removed.
When you get to the tender inner leaves with the purple tips, you can remove them all at once. Dip and eat just the light colored parts of these leaves.
3 Scrape out the choke: With a knife or spoon, scrape out and discard the inedible fuzzy part (called the "choke") covering the artichoke heart.
4 Cut the heart into pieces and eat: Underneath the artichoke choke is the heart. Cut the heart into pieces and dip into melted butter, a vinaigrette, or a sauce to eat.
My favorite artichoke dipping sauce? Some mayonnaise with a little balsamic vinegar stirred in.
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