In some ways, it’s sort of amazing how people ever figured out how exactly to eat artichokes in the first place. They’re members of the thistle family, prickly to harvest, take a good amount of preparation before they can be cooked, and once they are, it’s not exactly obvious how to eat them. Oh, and about half of an artichoke isn’t edible at all, so if you were feeling slightly embarrassed about needing to research how to eat an artichoke on the internet, don’t be. This vegetable is an edible puzzle box, with rewards that make it very much worth solving.
How to Buy Artichokes
Fresh artichokes are available all year round, but the tastiest artichokes are available during their two peak seasons: from March to June, and again from September to October. When buying, look for artichokes with tight, compact leaves; it’s fine if any are discolored, which is a normal, natural reaction that happens when its leaves come in contact with air. Hold the artichoke up to your ear and give it a little squeeze; if you can hear a little squeak, that’s a good thing. An artichoke should also feel a little heavy for its size, which means it’s full of moisture and hasn’t dried out after harvesting. Unless you’re planning a special preparation that specifically involves usage of a long-stemmed artichoke, go for ones that have had the stems removed, which are easier to prepare.
To store: wrap artichokes individually in paper towels to help absorb excess moisture, then put into an airtight container or plastic bag and keep them in the refrigerator. A healthy, fresh artichoke should last for about a week.
Everything You Need to Know About Artichokes
There are five main parts of an artichoke, which are all visible If you split an artichoke straight in half. In the middle you’ll find a fuzzy, feathery part called the choke, which is not edible, and easily scraped out. Over the choke there are thin, papery leaves which are also inedible and can be discarded. Below the choke is the heart, which is edible, and the stem which is also edible as long as the thick outer layer is removed with a vegetable peeler.
As for the thick outer leaves, they’re not entirely edible: you can’t pop them in your mouth and eat the whole thing, but the meaty flesh found at the bottom where the leaves meet the heart are exceptionally delicious. You can eat this part by putting a leaf in your mouth and scraping off the edible bits with your teeth.
How to Prepare an Artichoke
When preparing an artichoke for cooking use a serrated knife, which will help you easily cut through the fibrous leaves. Cut off the top third of the artichoke, giving it a flat top and exposing the yellow part, and trim off the bottom so it will stand upright.
Don’t worry about cutting off any spiny tips found on the leaves, as they’ll soften while cooking, nor should you worry about removing the inedible choke or inner leaves, which can be removed cleanly and easily once the whole artichoke is cooked.
Some recipes may instruct you to rub cut artichokes with lemon to prevent browning, but it’s not worth the effort, since artichokes will turn a brownish-olive tone when cooked. What is worth the effort is giving them a good scrub under hot running water, since artichokes are coated in a protective substance that can taste rather bitter if not washed off.
The key to making a great artichoke is to make sure it doesn’t dry out, which is why boiling is a great cooking method to use if you’re a beginner. Simply lower your artichokes into a large pot of salted, boiling water, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pot, then allow to cook for 20 minutes. Remove one of the artichokes with a pair of tongs and insert the tip of a sharp knife into the center of the bottom: if it slides in easily, it’s ready; if not, cook for another five minutes and test again. Depending on their size, artichokes can take between 20-60 minutes to cook, so though boiling is mostly a hands-off process, you’ll still need to be attentive.
How to Serve Artichokes
Once cooked, artichokes can be eaten hot or cold. Remove the outer leaves one at a time and scrape the meat from the insides with your teeth, tossing the fibrous remains into a bowl to be discarded. Once you make your way through all the leaves, scoop out the choke and inner leaves with a spoon and put in the discard bowl. You’ll be left with the tender artichoke heart, which is fully edible and needs no special treatment. Try serving your artichokes with a light vinaigrette or aioli for dipping, or a simple drizzle of quality olive oil with a sprinkling of crunchy sea salt.