Artichokes are part of the thistle family. Pretty purple and green plants…some of which will sting you, leaving welts and blisters. Who would think to eat such a thing?! That question is kind of unanswered. We do know that in antiquity they were eaten in various forms, so someone obviously got up the nerve to try them. Ancient Roman, Greek, and Arabic cultures all mention artichokes, and the seeds show up in African archeological exploration.
Of course, we eat them before they bloom fully and become inedible. As it is, they require a firm cooking to be enjoyable, and to be tender enough to consume. Like many foods, they have distinctive flavors, but a large part of the enjoyment comes from the sauce that accompanies them. More about that later.
There are a few varieties, our most common food one is generically called globe artichokes. There are also smaller varieties that lend themselves to canning or marinating, and can be eaten almost in their entirety.
Artichokes grow upward as they seek the sun. As a Mediterranean native, they thrive in hot climates, growing on stalks that get 3-4 feet long. When cut off the stem, they move to the kitchen and this can get confusing with some of the nomenclature. When preparing them to cook, you cut the leaf tips off (they have nasty points).
Then you end up with a flat bottom to stand them on. But, the stem and the ‘heart’ that it spreads out to become, the most edible portion, is formally known as the artichoke bottom in the cooking world, which can be confusing.
When cooked, you remove the leaves, which bring a small piece of the heart with them, dip this in a sauce if desired, and basically scrape it off with your teeth. Then you can clean out the fuzzy portion and eat what remains of the heart.
Using Butter versus Mayo
This is one of those distinctions that almost becomes like a theological difference; do you eat artichokes with butter or mayonnaise for dipping? Our recipe here is for serving an artichoke cold, so mayo or flavored aioli is the logical choice. Served warm, melted butter, flavored with garlic or such, is another great choice.
Flavor directions go from garlic as mentioned to mustard tinged or spicy chili sauce mixed into your dipping sauce. Butter based sauces like hollandaise are almost too mild to stand up to the strong flavor of an artichoke. The fun part of this food adventure is figuring out what you like best.
Why chilled artichokes?
Artichokes have enough flavor that they deal with being served cold quite well. In general, chilled food tastes milder than warm food. Not a problem here. Since they do take a while to cook, you can do everything in advance and not heat up your kitchen in warm weather, the middle of artichoke season. Also, when preparing a full meal, it is always nice to have excellent side dishes that can be finished entirely in advance.
Another reason to chill, is that they are very easy to handle and prepare when cooked and chilled. As a result, you can clean the inedible parts away and give your diners food that is easier to eat and enjoy.
Preparing and Cleaning an Artichoke
Normally we would include this as a brief recipe step, or in the tips and tricks. However, it is such an integral part of handling artichokes that it needs a bit more direction. First, be aware that raw artichoke is exceptionally bitter. That flavor will transfer from knives and cutting boards. They are also very tough, so exercise caution when cutting them down.
Snap the leaves off the stem to get rid of the drier leaves, then cut the stem to your desired length. After cutting the stem, the next cut is the hardest. Basically, you are cutting across the leaf bundle to make most of them the same length. Then you trim the leaves that the knife cut didn’t get. If you have kitchen scissors it will make this task very easy and safe. Lastly, we split them in half for this cooking and serving process.
Tips for best chilled artichokes
Steaming artichokes is our preferred way to cook them. You can boil them or use a pressure cooker. Both of those last two options tend to get a water logged and somewhat bland result. Steaming preserves more flavors in our opinion.
We flavored our mayonnaise with garlic. In this case it was a confit, garlic that was slowly cooked until soft. You can lightly roast your garlic as well for similar taste and results. Fine minced raw garlic, or granulated garlic, will give you good flavors, often a little stronger, so certainly use less than this recipe suggests.
Different sized chokes will obviously need varied cooking times. Color is an easy indicator of being cooked, they will shift to deeper more monochromatic coloration. The sure way to tell doneness is to tug at a leaf. If the outer leaves release fairly easily, they are done cooking. That being said it is hard to really overcook them, so a couple minutes more likely won’t hurt them.
Chilled Artichokes Recipe
- 2 Globe artichokes
- ½ Teaspoon Red chili flakes
- ½ Teaspoon Fennel seed
- ½ Teaspoon Allspice
- ½ Cup Mayonnaise
- 8-10 Cloves Garlic roasted or confit
- 1 Teaspoon Dried basil
- ½ Teaspoon Kosher salt
- Clean and trim artichokes
- Cut in half
- Fill steamer pot with 2 inches of water
- Add red chili flakes, fennel seed, allspice
- Set steamer insert in place and put in artichokes, cut side down
- Cover and bring water to a boil
- Cook for 30-45 minutes until tender
- Let cool until safe to handle
- Use a spoon to remove the center, and the purple leaves
- Chill fully
- Put mayonnaise, garlic cloves, basil, and salt into a food mill and blend well*Alternate; chop, then smash garlic on a cutting board, blend with mayo and salt
- Put sauce in center cavity of each choke
- Serve immediately, or chill until meal time