UPDATE: Our cold weather is very good for artichokes and the ones I’ve had so far this spring are pretty much as good as they get. Prices are good now, too, sometimes as low as 99 cents each.
If you have a favorite way to prepare artichokes or if you have a tip for a great source, please share it here.
In most instances, I prefer boiled artichokes. I spent an entire spring several years ago comparing boiled and steamed and came to the conclusion that the flavors and textures blossom best when the artichoke is in direct contact with the water, which should, of course, be salted. The artichoke also benefits from a bit of olive oil drizzled into its center, after the top has been cut off, as described below. Boiled artichokes are cooked whole.
Basic Boiled Artichokes
- The simplest way to cook artichokes is to boil them in salted water. To prep your artichokes for boiling, trim the stems to about 1/8 to 1/4-inch. Next, set an artichoke on a cutting board, its stem end pointing to 3 o’clock (if you are right-handed) or to 9 o’clock if you are left handed. Cut off the tip of the artichoke, about 3/4-inch below the top, exposing the inner leaves. Set all cut artichokes upright on your work surface. If you like, you may cut the tip off each outer leaf, using either a sharp chef’s knife or kitchen shears (this is a decorative step and is not essential for cooking). Drizzle about half a teaspoon of olive oil into the center of each artichoke. Set the artichokes in a deep saucepan or soup pot; one that holds them snuggly is ideal, cover with water and season the water generously with salt. If the pot does not hold the artichokes snuggly, you’ll need to set something on top to keep them submerged; a small lid works well. Bring to a boil over high heat.
- You must take care not to overcook the artichokes; cooking time varies depending on size, variety and even season. In some years, artichokes cook more quickly than in others. To avoid the possibility of mushy artichokes, set a timer for 12 minutes after the water begins to boil. When the timer goes off, use tongs to lift an artichoke out and turn it upside down. Push a bamboo skewer through the stem end into the heart; if it slips in easily with minimum pressure, the artichokes are done. If you must struggle to push it in, cook the artichokes another 3 (if nearly done) to 10 minutes (still quite hard) and then test again. Repeat until there is just a bit of resistance. Use tongs to transfer the cooked artichokes to a colander or strainer, setting them upside down so that the water drains out.
- Serve the artichokes hot with melted garlic butter, Olio Nuovo or Meyer Lemon Olive Oil, chilled with mayonnaise, aioli or a mixture of Dijon mustard and yogurt or in more elaborate dishes.
Braised and Grilled Artichokes
- In some cases, you may want to braise artichokes, in which case they should be cut and the choke removed before cooking. It is easy to do provided you have a large sharp knife and a good wooden cutting board.
- First, fill a large bowl half full with water and add the juice of half a lemon. Set it next to your cutting board.
- Next, trim the stems of the artichokes, leaving about 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Set an artichoke on the cutting board, stem side toward you pointing to about 4 o’clock. Press the broadest part of the blade into the fattest part of the artichoke and then press downward, cutting all the way through the artichoke. Use one hand for holding the knife and put the other on top of that hand to guide you and hold the artichoke. If you want to fill the braised artichokes–with, say, fresh Dungeness crab and Louis dressing–leave them halved. If you want to braise them for a sauce or ragout, cut each in half again, lengthwise.
- Remove the choke. Switch to a small paring knife and look closely at the heart. You’ll see a change in texture where the heart and choke meet. Insert the tip of the knife right there, between the two, and cut across the surface of the heart, pressing until you feel the tip of the knife hit the leaves. Now, use your fingers to pull out the choke and the tough inner leaves, the ones that feel prickly and papery. Use the back of the knife to scrape off any remaining choke fibers and drop the cleaned artichoke into the acidulated water. Continue until all of the artichokes have been prepped in this fashion. Once you get the hang of it, it goes fast. It takes longer to describe it than to do it.
- To braise the artichokes, first saute them in olive oil, butter or a mixture of the two, until all cut sides are very lightly browned, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add liquid–water, chicken stock, white wine or whatever else a recipe or inclination calls for–and simmer very slowly until tender.
- For grilled artichokes, cook cut and cleaned artichokes in boiling salted water for about 5 to 7 minutes. Drain thoroughly, toss with a little olive oil and grill over medium coals, turning frequently, until tender.