How to Prepare and Eat Artichokes
Ah artichokes – many of us go through life not knowing what these things look like when not out of a can (or in a popular appetizer). To remedy this, we’re going to share our best tips for choosing, preparing and storing artichokes so you’ll not only know what they actually look like, but also how to eat these surprisingly pretty veggies.
F.N. Sharp Tips for Preparing and Eating Artichokes
Before we get into how to prepare and eat those artichokes, let’s talk a little bit about what they are and where they come from.
What Exactly is an Artichoke?
The artichoke is actually the bud of a plant from the thistle family. The edible portions are technically flower buds that have yet to bloom, but that still doesn’t make them a fruit.
An artichoke consists of several parts, starting from the stem on the bottom that leads to the heart – the prized portion of the plant – which is surrounded by bristly fibers called “choke” (it’s aptly named because eating the choke might cause choking). Around the choke are layers of leaves, or bracts, which have pointy spines similar to thorns.
Though artichokes may appear impressive in size, people tend to commonly consume only two parts of the plant: the heart and the fleshy bases of the bracts (although the stem is edible and pretty delicious, as well).
Where Do Artichokes Come From?
Historians believe this thistle plant is native to the Mediterranean region. Artichokes eventually made their way to Spain, thanks to Arab travelers, and Florence-born noblewoman Catherine de’ Medici likely brought the artichoke to France when she married into the French royal family.
How the artichoke ventured to the United States is not definitively known, but theories suggest that the Spanish probably brought the plant to California by the 19th century, and the French might have introduced artichokes to other American states, such as Louisiana.
Today, over 99% of commercial artichokes in the US are grown in California – specifically in Coachella, Castroville, Thermal, and Oxnard. The state boasts a Mediterranean-like climate and soil, which allows the plants to thrive. There are many different varieties of artichokes, but Green Globes remain among the most common. Though artichokes are in stock year-round in most of the United States, their peak season is early spring and, to a lesser-degree, late autumn.
How to Choose and Store Fresh Artichokes
Fresh artichokes should be firm and somewhat hefty in weight relative to its size. The leaves, or bracts, are ideally tightly packed. If an artichoke has dry, loosened bracts that are falling off in your hand, then you should search for a better one. The stem may appear brown, but this is fine as long as it’s not desiccated or clammy to the touch. Some artichoke fans swear by the “squeak test,” which involves giving the plant a squeeze and, if it’s fresh, the bracts should make a squeaking sound.
When storing fresh artichokes before cooking, place them unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to one week – just be sure to cook them as soon as you notice the leaves start to spread. For cooked artichokes, store within two hours of cooking in an airtight container or wrapped tightly in aluminum foil or plastic wrap for up to five days.
When it comes to freezing artichokes, it’s not recommended if uncooked as they’ll not only become discolored but will also yield poor flavor when cooked. Cooked artichokes, on the other hand, can be frozen for up to a year in an airtight container or heavy-duty freezer bag.
How to Prepare and Eat Artichokes
Depending on how you plan to cook the artichoke, there are a few methods for preparation. But first some basic prep: wash the artichoke and grab a knife – tip: you’ll definitely need a sharp knife for this one, preferably a hefty chef's knife as artichokes are pretty tough (more on the best knife for cutting veggies here).
Start by stabilizing your cutting board with a damp towel underneath, then slice off about half an inch from the top of the onion so you’ll have a flat surface to work with. Then hold the stalk and use kitchen shears to snip off the spikes from the bracts. If there are too many spikes on the bracts and you don’t have time for that, simply slice off the plant’s crown with a knife. Sometimes cooks choose to rub the artichoke with lemon because the acid helps prevent the plant from browning. To reach the artichoke’s heart, you’ll need to remove both the outer and inner bracts until you reach the hair-like choke. Then carefully remove all of the choke from the heart.
If you plan to steam or roast the artichoke, then follow the same steps and use the knife to cut off its stem at the base. For grilling, simply discard the brown part of the stem’s end. Now the artichoke can be cooked in a steamer, tossed on the grill, or roasted in the oven.
When it comes time to eat those artichokes, there are a few tips to keep in mind when eating the different parts. As far as bracts go, people tend to only eat the fleshy bases (not the entire leaf), so when eating the bract, hold it from the trimmed side and dip the base into a sauce, such as lemon garlic aioli or hollandaise, and slide between your top and bottom teeth to remove the flesh.
Now that you know all about how to choose, prepare, eat and store artichokes, head on over to the F.N. Sharp Kitchen to test your skills with this recipe for steamed artichokes with agave mustard dip!