How to eat a giant Artichoke

I grew up in the vicinity of Castroville in Central California. It’s a little out of the way town that is known for being the Artichoke Capital of the World, and little else. I remember driving through the artichoke fields to get over to hwy 1 and the ocean when I would visit my family there. We had a friend who would give us flats of artichokes in the spring for free.

This is an instruction on how I was shown to eat a giant Artichoke and I’ve never seen anyone eat them any other way except on menu in a restaurant, a different smaller variety of artichoke from other parts of the world or pickled in a jar. I experimented with exchanging the mayonnaise for another condiment but it’s just not the same and never tastes as good. The only substitute I will use is Ranch Dressing if I have no Mayo. It’s happened once or twice.

Firstly, I tend to look for the fatter wider artichokes with an undamaged stem and that there is enough stem so you can trim away several inches before the base of the flower starts.  You want to look between the petals (yep, you are about to eat a giant flower) and see smooth even green with no damage or bumps. It should be firm and make a rubbery sort of sound when moved against itself. There may be a bit of purple coloring, that’s just what color it would be if it bloomed.

You get a large pan of water with a few drops of olive oil and set it to a low/medium boil. Take your Artichoke and cut the top half of the flower off and discard it. Then cut away the base and remove the first layer of outer petals and discard them.

Take your cut artichoke and place in to float in the pan of water, face up so it saturates down into the petals and let it go for about 10 minutes before flipping it over and giving it another 10 minutes on the other side. By now it will have turned a darker green and any marks you make on it will appear dark brown a few minutes later so if you pierce it with a fork for turning it over its normal for it to darken. The water will also become green. Poke through the base when it is face down and if the fork inserts easily it is done. Turn off the stove and let the water stop boiling and cool a bit before you remove the artichoke. Be careful to take it out face down to let the water drain from the petals and not to scald yourself. I usually place it in a colander to drain for a few minutes and then serve it on a large dinner plate with lots of room, with a ramekin of mayonnaise.

 

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I’ve always enjoyed a plain black hot tea with artichoke, I’m pretty sure that’s just me.

Now, there is some technique to eating it.

Pluck off a petal and dip it in mayo/ranch. Not all of it is edible, part of it is mushy and delicious and the other part is fibrous and you discard it. You are essentially scraping the edible part off with your teeth, I recommend doing this with the petal facing up and doing the scraping with your top teeth instead of your bottom teeth. This prevents water from dripping down your arm/chin. As you move inwards through the layers more of the petal becomes edible until all or nearly all of it is edible. Near the center when it all becomes edible I pluck multiple petals and roll them together.

 

Now, let’s talk about what kind of flower we are eating, it’s a giant thistle, it has spikes and spines and prickly parts when it blooms and there’s evidence of that here. The center of the flower with the seeds is pokey and the short thin covering over the seeds has little spines at the tip of the petals. You will notice they are a different sort of petal, shorter, flatter, paper thin with no meaty edible part at the bottom, they cover over the seeds and they may be tinged purple.

 

You should to remove these little petals and the seeds and discard them because of the spiny/pokey fibrous parts.  What you have left is called the Heart. It is the most delicious part of the Artichoke. You may find brown punctures here from a fork, this is normal if you punctured it turning or checking for doneness, it’s fine and edible.

 

The entirety of the heart is edible and if you’ve gotten this far you probably immediately want another artichoke because the heart is so tasty, it’s well worth the effort to get to it.

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