Well, it’s hard for me to believe, but today is my blogaversary. Yep, it’s been one whole year since I started PopArtichoke, and what a year it’s been! Many, many thanks to all of you who have supported me, encouraged me, inspired me, and made all the work worthwhile! It’s amazing what I’ve learned in a year, especially since I started with no idea what I was doing. It’s been quite a gratifying experience so far, and I’m really excited about the plans I have for the future of this site.
In the meantime, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to provide a tutorial for cooking and eating the blog’s namesake veggie: artichokes! They’re one of my very favorite vegetables (and having “art” in their name is an added bonus)! However, it can be a bit tricky to figure out how to enjoy them if you’ve never done it before. Never fear… PopArtichoke is here! It’s a simple task, and more than rewarding.
Artichoke season has just begun here in Illinois, so I was able to find some fine specimens. I cooked ’em up the other night in my favorite way: steamed, with plenty of clarified butter for dipping. Pure and simple. I’ve got step-by-step instructions for you here, complete with photos (many thanks to my friend Steve for being the hand model for this post!) Ready? Let’s get started!
The Art of the Artichoke
A guide to choosing, prepping, cooking, buttering and eating this most delightful veggie
What you’ll need
- An artichoke or two
- Kitchen shears
- Vegetable peeler
- Large pot with a steamer basket and lid
- Small saucepan
- Unsalted butter
- Fresh garlic and herbs (optional)
- Paring Knife
- Serving dishes for artichokes and butter
Finding the perfect artichokes
When picking out artichokes, look for ones that have tight leaves and a bright green hue. The leaves should make a slight squeaking sound if you tug on them. Make sure the leaves aren’t bruised or oddly colored (a hint of purple is just fine). If you’re planning on eating the stem, which I highly recommend, hold the ‘choke by the stem and lightly rock it as if it’s nodding its “head.” If it’s a good one, it should feel heavy on its stem but firmly on there; you don’t want one that’s too wobbly or weak.
Preparing the artichokes for cooking
Artichokes are actually members of the thistle family, thus the prickly points on their leaves. These need to be trimmed off so they won’t stab you later when you’re trying to eat them. Take some sharp kitchen shears and, starting with the bottom, outermost layer of leaves, slide the bottom blade under the leave and snip off the top, prickly end. Move around the surface of the artichoke, repeating on each layer until you get to the top.
Near the top you’ll find that the leaves are too tight to cut this way, so you can dig the scissors into the top and carefully cut around that way, or on smaller, pointier ‘chokes, you may be able to chop the top part clear off. As long as there’s not anything too spiny remaining, you should be good.
Near the base of the artichoke and on the stem, there will usually be some smaller leaves poking out. Pull these off by hand. If the stem is woody or discolored at the bottom, slice that portion off. Go over the stem with a vegetable peeler a couple of times to get the tougher, stringier layer off.
Now you’ve got a gorgeous trimmed artichoke all ready to be cooked!
Steaming the artichokes
Fill a large pot with a few inches of water. This depends on the size of the pot and how low the steamer basket sits into the pot. You need enough water to boil and simmer below the steamer tray, but if the water level is too low it could boil away completely. About three inches from the base of the pot is typically a safe bet. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce to a steady simmer so that there’s constant steam for the ‘chokes to cook in. Place the steamer basket into the pot and place the artichokes in the basket. Cover with a lid. Steam for 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the artichokes. The two pictured here cooked for about 50 minutes. When in doubt, opt to cook longer. To check if an artichoke is done, try to pull out a leave close to the center of the ‘choke. If it pulls out easily, the artichoke is ready to be enjoyed.
Making Clarified Butter
Steamed artichokes dipped in butter are simply delicious, and clarified butter is the best for this task. Clarified butter is the clear, sinfully good butterfat left over when the extra milk solids and water in the butter are removed, and you can dress it up with garlic and/or herbs for an extra treat. Start by melting unsalted butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. For these two ‘chokes, we used 3/4 of a stick of butter. If you want garlic butter, add one or two crushed cloves of garlic to the pan with the butter. Keep an eye on it, ensuring it doesn’t burn, but don’t stir it, as that would disrupt the separation. In about 10 minutes the butter should have melted and started to separate. When a layer of white foam (milk solids) has risen to the top, use a spoon or small ladle to skim the foam off the butter’s surface, leaving just the clear, yellow butterfat. If you added garlic, remove that too. Once all the white foam has been skimmed off, season with salt and chopped herbs (tarragon is a favorite of ours), pour into a ramekin or small bowl, and serve alongside the artichokes.
HINT: To keep your butter warmer for a longer time, fill a microwave-safe serving ramekin or bowl with a little bit of water and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds to get the water hot. Keep the hot water in the ramekin while you’re preparing the butter, pouring it out just before you pour the butter in. That way the dish will be pre-heated!
Eating the Artichokes
Alright, you’ve waited long enough.. now it’s time to eat ’em!
Start by pulling out an outer leaf of the artichoke, and dip it in some of that clarified butter you just made. Hold the leaf like a potato chip, and look for the soft, meaty part at the base of the inside of the leaf. That’s the part you eat! Hold the tip of the leaf and bring it to your mouth, scraping the meaty goodness off the leaf with your teeth. Don’t eat the tough, outer part of the leaf; just discard that part. (Sorry that there aren’t photos of this step… I just wasn’t ready to find out how incredibly unsexy and awkward such a photo would be.) Enjoy the tasty “meat” and repeat until you get to the center of the artichoke.
Here’s what the artichokes looked like once I got to the centers. The one of the right still has the last of its leaves attached; you can pull these off and enjoy them, as they’re super tender and tasty! Then your ‘choke should look like the one on the left. In fact, that white stringy stuff in the center is the actual choke. As you may have gathered from its name, you don’t want to eat this part. Take a spoon and scoop out the choke, leaving the famously delicious heart.
Yes, you’ve finally reached the tender heart of the artichoke. Take a paring knife and halve or quarter each heart, then take a section, butter it up, and eat the whole thing. You could also use the hearts in pasta or salad, but I mean, the butter is right there…
And that’s it! Hope you enjoyed that tutorial as much as I enjoyed making it (as if I really needed an excuse to eat an artichoke..). Once again, thank you ALL so much for all your comments, support, and advice over the past year. I’ve made so many friends, had so much fun, and I’m super excited to kick off year 2! A special thanks to my friends and family that encouraged and inspired me. I’d never have been able to start this site without your support.