The Best Way to Prep and Eat an Artichoke
What hungry soul first ate an artichoke? A forager, of course. Because artichokes are really giant thistles. They have been bred over time to yield an oversized flower bud whose heart—defended by a phalanx of leafy bracts and bristle choke—is tender deliciousness.
Fresh artichokes have a distinctive flavor and sweetness that canned or jarred artichokes do not. Eating a whole artichoke requires a sense of adventure, but If you are a finger-licker, the journey is as much fun as the succulent destination.
How you prep an artichoke to eat depends on how you mean to eat it, of course: Whole, with a dipping sauce, after it is steamed? Or roasted? And you can also serve just the cleaned hearts of artichoke to people you like (a lot). Because peeling away those bracts and de-choking this edible flower is a labor of love. Read on for every which way to cook and eat an artichoke, step by step.
How to Choose an Artichoke
The best artichokes are plump, firm, weighty for their size, with tightly closed green (or sometimes purple) bracts. Fresh artichokes squeak when squeezed! No squeak? No good. If it has a stem, it should be firm. Flaccid stems and open bracts mean the artichoke is old. Brown spotting near the tips of the bracts may mean that frost has kissed the artichokes in the field—this does not affect their flavor and may actually sweeten them. In season in late spring and early summer (this varies, regionally), look for artichokes at local farmers' markets, your supermarket, or online from sources such as Ocean Mist Farms (this may guarantee freshness if you don't mind paying for the privilege).
Here are four ways to prepare and eat artichokes. Wash them before you begin.
How to Steam an Artichoke
There are two ways to prep artichokes for steaming. The fancy way (for friends), and the I-just-want-to-eat-this-artichoke quick way:
Snap off the tough outer bracts. Using a serrated knife (which will not slip), cut off the top third of the artichoke. Cut the remaining sharp or spiky tips using scissors. Rub cut surfaces with lemon to prevent discoloration. Repeat with remaining artichokes and lemon. Trim the end of the stalk (but leave attached because its heart is also good to eat).
Follow the steps above—but skip the scissor trimming! Good for work-life balance.
Place a steamer basket over water in a large, lidded pot (add allspice or bay leaf to the water for extra fragrance). Lay artichokes in the basket and steam until the bottoms of their bases are tender when pierced deeply with a skewer. For very large artichokes this can take 40 minutes; for medium sizes, about 25 minutes. Lift out the cooked artichokes with tongs and place on a wire rack for cooling, if you are serving them at room temperature, or plate them at once to serve hot.
For a cold dip, serve with mayonnaise. You can add snipped chives, lemon juice, mustard, or miso to make the mayonnaise even better. For a hot dip, Hollandaise, melted butter, or warm olive oil are hard to beat. Add slivered garlic, or spices like cumin, cinnamon, Aleppo pepper, or smoked paprika to the butter or oil.
To eat, pull the bracts off one by one, dip, and use your teeth to scrape off the tender artichoke flesh at the bottom. When you reach the center of the artichoke the paler bracts will become more tender. Once the choke is visible, use a spoon to scrape away the hairs. Now savor that delicious, sweet heart. You have reached artichoke nirvana.
How to Roast an Artichoke
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Slit the artichokes lengthways. Steam as above until tender. Use a spoon to scrape out the hairy chokes. Lay the artichokes on a sheetpan and brush them with oil. Scatter across your favorite seasonings (chopped almonds, breadcrumbs tossed in butter, lemon zest, and Parmesan spring to mind). Roast for about 10 minutes until the artichokes are sizzling. Serve with melted butter for dipping and plenty of napkins for wiping fingers.
How to Braise an Artichoke
Braised artichoke hearts are a treat. In some countries the tedious prepping is done for you: Travel to Turkey in May and you will find sacks of peeled and de-choked fresh artichokes for sale at markets, along with the peas and herbs for stuffing them. Cooks in the United States, alas, must do the prep work—but we say the effort is worth it! Frozen artichoke hearts are a solid alternative; they're not bad, they're just not the same.
Start by squeezing the juice of half a lemon into a bowl. Then, pull off the green bracts from raw, mature artichokes. If your artichokes are babies, you can leave the inner bracts as well as the choke, since both will be tender enough to eat.
If the artichokes you're working with are very fresh you can snap the bracts off, leaving behind each pale titbit at the base so it remains attached to the heart. Once the bracts are removed trim off any remaining green and fibrous pieces with a very sharp small knife.
Dip the artichoke into the acidulated (lemon) water as you work if you want to prevent it from browning (this will help keep your fingers free of stains, too). When the artichoke is trimmed, pull out the central, spiky bracts. Work a teaspoon into the heart and carefully scrape out the bristly choke. Drop each prepared heart into the acidulated water while you work on the next. Once the artichokes are ready you can either stuff them—if they are very large—or combine them with aromatics and root vegetables in a pan and braise gently until cooked.