How to Trim an Artichoke
and prepare artichoke hearts - full pictorial guide
Nearly 20 years ago, I tried my first artichoke. I was at a posh restaurant in a little village in the English County of Norfolk, having lunch with the boyfriend du jour. When I say posh, I don't mean really fine dining. At that age I had only just started eating out in restaurants and so every meal was a grand adventure for me. The poshness of the place, which was hushed and had real napkins, water jugs and flowers on the table, was judged in contrast to my then self, who was probably wearing a flouncy, colourful mini-skirt over a pair of tight black leggings or cycling shorts, and men's black reeboks and who would have arrived at the restaurant on one of the first mountain bikes imported into the UK, a flourescent yellow Marin Muirwoods. And this particular restaurant had artichokes on its menu which seemed awfully posh to the naive, young me. I had never seen one in my life before.
It arrived in front of me, a whole, steamed artichoke, and I didnt have the first idea about how to eat it. Really, neither of us knew what to do with it. I was aghast. I hovered over it, puzzled, wondering whether I should dig in somehow with a knife and fork?
My etiquette saviour came in the form of another customer who had also ordered the 'choke. Unfortunately this brave diner was seated behind me and so I couldn't watch him which led, instead, to my dining partner having to relay instructions to me as he studied the artichoke-eating technique unfold. "He's pulling out the leaves one at a time", he whispered across the table to me, "and then he's dipping it in the sauce and it looks like he is sucking on it". "NO! Don't eat the whole thing, he is throwing the rest of the leaf away!"
Over the years, I tried steaming whole artichokes from time to time, never being really happy with the sludgy brown results I created. But since I have been taking cooking classes at Tante Marie I have learnt how to deal with these prickly thistle flowers and now I have absolutely no fear of them. In fact, I find preparing them to be extremely theraputic. My various teachers at the school have each shown me a slightly different technique for preparing the artichokes and after some practice my own way of doing it has evolved, mainly based on the instruction of Jen Knapp, but with much more lemon involved and the help of a grapefruit spoon!
An Illustrated Guide to Preparing Articokes:
1) Start by filling a bowl with cold water and squeezing the juice of a lemon into it. This will serve as a bath for for the artichokes during the preparation period. Acid in the form of lemon (you could use a dash of white vinegar instead) will slow the formation of phenolics which are quick to cause browning on the surface of the vegetable when it is cut and exposed to air. The water will also reduce the artichoke's exposure to oxygen and help slow the discolouration.
In addition, have a halved lemon at the ready before you start work on the artichoke. You will be using this lemon to rub over cut surfaces at every turn. Also make sure your equipment (knives and saucepan are made from a non-reactive substance such as stainless steel)
2) Begin work on the artichoke by pulling out the tough, outer, dark green leaves.
3) Continue removing leaves until you are left with just light coloured, tender leaves in the centre. Immediately rub the newly exposed surfaces with juice from the halved lemon.
4) Slice off the top one inch of the leaves.
5) Trim the stalk - but not too far. The stalk is actually a continuation of the heart and it tastes good, so make sure not too much of it goes to waste. Again, rub cut surfaces with lemon.
6) Using a small pairing knife, trim the remaining dark green surfaces at the base of the artichoke, including the stalk. Continue to rub with lemon as you work.
7) At this stage your artichoke should look nice and neat like this.
8) Next stage is to cut the artichoke in half. Rub the edges with that lemon juice again - it really does help slow the browning process.
9) The choke - hairy fibres in the centre of the artichoke - all need to be removed in a large artichoke like this one. My top tip at this stage is to use a grapefruit spoon which has a serrated edge and makes the job slightly easier. If you don't have one a regular teaspoon will work too. Use the tip of the spoon to gouge out all of the hairs.
10) Pull out all of the tough red leaves in the centre, leaving the soft green leaves in place. Rub those surfaces with lemon again!
11) Your artichoke is now prepped. Leave the halves in the water bath whilst you tackle your other artichokes. Just before cooking, Cut the 'chokes lengthwise into sizes that suit your recipe and rub with lemon again. For artichokes this big I would probably cut each half into eight pieces.
The particular artichokes in these pictures are destined to become part of a delicious Artichoke Panzanella salad later today.
Links, Resources and Further Reading
Bay Area Resources:
Artichokes | from Iacopi Farm
The Ferry Building | Market Place
Saturday Morning | Farmers Market
Cooking School | Tante Marie
Eat Local | Eat Local Challenge
On Food & Cooking | Kitchen Science tips from Harold McGee
Pictures of Norfolk | on Flickr
|Archive Alert! On this day in 2005: It was the start of a Quiz|
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