How to Prep Artichokes

Artichoke-prep

  • While big artichokes are great to eat and easy to prepare, don’t overlook the tiny ones that can be used in so many ways. The smaller the better! (They are easier to trim, too.)
  • When selecting artichokes, they should be compact without any of the bracts (leaves) spreading widely. The leaves at the center should be tight against one another.
  • Bracts should be plump, never withered or shriveled.
  • Check the stem of the artichoke. It should be full and firm, without any sponginess to it. The cut should look fresh and clean.
  • Carefully, and I do mean carefully, squeeze the artichoke in your hand. It should squeak. This is a sign of freshness. No squeak? Not so fresh.
  • Artichokes discolor rapidly upon cutting. To prevent oxidation, rub the cut with lemon juice, or submerge the artichokes in acidulated water. Your knife will discolor as well, especially if it is carbon steel. Wash the knife right away (use Comet and a cork to scrub carbon steel blades) after finishing with the artichokes. If you use the knife unwashed on other things the bitter flavor of the raw artichoke will transfer to whatever you are cutting.
  • Raw artichokes will leave a bitterness on your hands that easily transfers, and can remain on your hands a long time. Wash your hands well with plenty of soap and water after handling artichokes.
  • Stems are frequently edible. Peel the stem with a knife and then cut off a little piece of it to taste. If it is not bitter it will taste just like the heart, of which it is an extension.
  • Artichokes require trimming, and lots of it. Do not skimp or you can wind up with bitter, tough, poorly-cooked artichokes. Not only that, if you miss the thorns on the bract tips, it hurts!
  • NEVER skimp on scraping out the choke. Check to make sure you removed all of it. They are really unpleasant and the effects of eating some can last days. I say this from experience, which is why you will never catch me eating fried artichokes at roadside stands.
  • Speaking of trimming, this is one of the few times I recommend a cheap serrated knife. Use it for trimming the bottom two-thirds off the large artichokes. Kitchen shears work also. If you use a kitchen knife, use one that has a thick firm blade that is sharp, and that you will soon be getting sharpened again. A short sharp paring knife is good for the rest of the work.
  • Artichokes contain cynarin. This compound is bitter, and has the unique characteristic of making the foods you eat after the artichoke taste sweet. This tends to mess with the taste of the wine that accompanies dinner. Many people say avoid wine altogether, but the consensus is to drink a high acid wine such as a Chenin Blanc or brut sparkler with artichokes.
  • When boiling artichokes, if the meal will have wine with it, I use wine in the liquid to bridge the wine-artichoke gap. I also cover the artichokes with a cloth to keep them in the liquid, or use a smaller pot lid to keep them submerged.
  • If after trimming big artichokes for stuffing or hearts, you have lots of meaty leaves left, steam them until just done and then cool them. You can eat them as is or scrape them with a spoon to get the meat off to use as a ravioli stuffing or mix into cream for a pasta sauce.

RECIPES: Oyster and Artichoke Soup, Braised Baby Artichokes Tuscan Style, Baby Artichoke Olive Salad, Artichoke Sourdough Bisque, Easy Baked Artichokes

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