An artichoke is a beast — but you can tame it. It’s almost as much work to eat one as it is to prepare one, but that’s what makes it worth it. The flavor is sweet, vegetal and rich. With each bite you savor, you’ll appreciate each minute of exacting work it took to get you there.
Celebrated chef Thomas Keller says life’s greatest challenge is “to maintain passion for the everyday routine and the endlessly repeated act, to derive deep gratification from the mundane.” And he sees the preparation of artichokes as the pinnacle of rising to that challenge. “You may look at your artichokes and think, ‘Look at all those artichokes I’ve got to cut and clean.’ But turning them — pulling off the leaves, trimming their stems, scooping out the chokes, pulling your knife around its edge — that is cooking.”
How to Cook an Artichoke
You’ll need an artichoke, a lemon and plenty of melted butter.
1. You only want the best, so get rid of the rest: Tear off the tough outer leaves, and cut off the stem and the top third. Use scissors to snip off any sharp leaf tips that remain.
2. You want it pretty. Rub and squeeze the cut side of half a lemon all over the artichoke to keep it sprightly and green.
3. Drop the artichoke into boiling water or set it upside down in a steamer, cooking until a knife slides easily into the stem end (about 40 minutes), or cook it for 10 minutes in a pressure cooker. Meanwhile, relax and enjoy a couple of chapters from that book you’ve been neglecting. Finally, set a simple table with a small plate, a soup bowl, a fork and a ramekin ... all for yourself.
How to Eat an Artichoke
1. Squeeze the other half of your lemon into a couple of tablespoons of melted butter in the ramekin.
2. Set the artichoke upright on your plate and begin to pull off one leaf at a time. Dip the meaty end of the leaf in the lemon butter and s-l-o-w-l-y scrape off the meat with your teeth. Mmmmmmm. Toss the relished leaves into your soup bowl.
3. Notice how each leaf tastes better and better as you get closer to the heart.
4. Observe your satisfying mound of discarded leaves. Begin to remember how good eating this artichoke has been.
5. When you see the purple-tipped leaves and furry “choke” in the center, slow down even more. This little defense mechanism is trying to keep you from getting to the really good part — but you know better. With the side of a fork, scrape off the choke and add it to your pile of artichoke detritus. You have tamed this beast.
6. Slice through the heart with your fork, breaking it into chunks. Drop each into the butter. Wait — you ate all of the butter? Well, melt some more! Drop your little broken heart into the butter and let it soak while you think about how good it’s about to get.
7. Savor the last few bites.
8. Consider: Is this one of the most satisfying three-ingredient solo meals you’ve ever had?
How to Cook Artichokes, International-Style
In France, les artichauts are a vessel for the wonderful sauces born of the country’s cuisine — for example, hollandaise (see How to Make Hollandaise Sauce). The classic hollandaise method is to serve a warm, boiled artichoke with its center filled with the sauce. Another classic French preparation is to braise artichokes à la barigoule in a bath of white wine, rich stock, carrots, fennel, shallots, herbs and pork fat.
Beloved since at least the 4th century B.C., artichokes are most popular in Italy, where many unique varieties of carciofi — even purple ones — are grilled, chilled, boiled, roasted and baked. For more artichoke tips and recipes, head to Tips for Cooking Artichokes. Add your own ideas there, too — okey-dokey, artichokey?