The Choke's On You

Food Gallery

    Good evening and welcome, again, to the Food Gallery. Tonight we meander a menagerie of ornery edibles, ingredients which revel in rousing cooks' consternation. Behold, the pomegranate: succulent but impenetrable. The green bean: benevolent on the plate, but how many summer childhoods have been wasted snapping and stringing and snapping and stringing. And hey, speaking of snapping, say 'hi' to the blue crab. Hoo, hoo. Dainty but dangerous.


Green Beans

Blue Crab

    And then the enigmatic artichoke. Most cooks believe they posses neither the skill nor the patience to deal with this verdant globe, but they're wrong. Artichokes are not as tough as they look. And at their heart, they're good eats.


Harry's / Whole Foods: Alpharetta, GA - 9:23 am

GUEST: Grocer

    [voice over] These are daisies. They're members of the thistle family. These are their bigger cousins, the sunflowers. Now sunflowers have bigger cousins, too, the artichokes.

    That's right. The artichoke is nothing more than the immature blossom of a giant, mutant thistle. Doesn't sound like good eats but trust me, it is. And besides, we eat lots of flower buds. I mean, you like capers, don't you? Flower buds. Do you like cabbage? Flower bud. Do you like cauliflower? Flower bud. But this is, indeed, the king of all flower buds. But before we can do any justice to this culinarily, we need to get into it botanically. And that's going to require doing a little extra shopping.
    When it comes to hunting globe artichokes, I look to bag specimens that are about the size of a large navel orange. Now they're big enough to deliver enough meat to make them worth my while without being so large that they're fibrous. And like a good orange, artichokes should seem heavy for its size.
    Now color is kind of a tricky quality in this species{?} because artichokes grown during different parts of the season are different colors. Now these are spring [artichokes] so they're light green with a little bit of purple. If they'd come from summer, they would've been olive drab. Sometimes early spring crops are actually tinged with bronze from frost. But they're still delicious.
    The other thing I look for are the leaves. Now if they've really started to spread out, they're usually past their prime. These are okay, but just barely. Now the real quality test is this: just take a leaf and pop it. Now if it snaps, it's still fresh. But if it just bends over, it's lost too much of its moisture. This looks good.
    Now if you shop where they sell them by the piece instead of the weight, you want to get the longest stem possible. They taste almost as good as the heart.

AB: [begins to put back the choke he just broke the leaves on]
GROCER: [watching]
AB: [to grocer] Well ... I'll just take this one. Bye now.

The Kitchen


    As with all green produce, the shorter the trip from the field to your face the better. And that can be a problem with artichokes because 9 out of 10 of these guys are grown in and around Castroville, California. So you can assume the further you are from California, the longer this [artichoke] has been on a truck. And that's a problem because it is going to lose a lot of moisture in the process and that cuts down on your storage options.

    Of course, you could keep your artichokes in plastic bags. Plastic is very good at keeping in moisture. In fact, it's too good. And it touches the food and that means it traps condensation on the food's surface and that leads to rapid rotting.

Plastic Bags = Rapid Rotting

    Of course, you've got other options. You could, for instance, use a plastic container. The problem is, is artichokes have a funny shape and they just, well, they don't cooperate with most of these gadgets. Now since this [artichoke] is round and this [two liter bottle] is round, as long as you've got one of these [two liter bottles] and one of these [pairs of scissors], there's no reason we can't make yourself one of these. [the bottom off of one bottle and the top of the other has been cut off, the artichokes are inside the topless one and covered with the bottomless one] Pretty slick, huh? It keeps in moisture but not too much, breaths, and heck, there's nothing better than recycling.

    Now when it comes to cooking these it's good to start with a bath. Just fill a deep bowl, pot, what have you, with cold water. Now although they do grow above ground, the globe's nooks and crannies make perfect resting places for airborne particles. And if they're organic, well, they can harbor worms, beetles, and ants ... oh my. So give them a dunk upside down and just kind of work them up and down for a few seconds to dislodge anything. And make sure the water is deep enough to allow for sediment to get away from the artichoke. There. Now after a brief draining, it's time to trim.

Cold Water Bath

    When it comes to artichokes, trimming can get complicated. This classic tome, for instance, recommends a ten cut procedure in prepping an artichoke and ends up looking a lot like this. Vegetable bondage. I just don't agree with it. Oh, and chefs used to think that tying a lemon onto the bottom of an artichoke would somehow keep it from browning when it cooked. I'm not real sure of the chemistry behind that, but ...

[Alton is reading the fictitious book, La Cuisine Tedious]

    Anyway, when it comes to vegetables I really don't think you should cut them anymore than is absolutely necessary. So how many cuts is necessary to prep an artichoke? Let's find out, shall we? One. [cuts the top off with his electric knife] Two. [cuts the stem off] Hmmm. Well, that's it folks. It takes two cuts to prep an artichoke for cooking. Oh and by the way, do not throw away the stems, okay? Peel them the way you would, say, a broccoli stem and cook them along with the rest of the artichoke. They taste almost as good as the heart.

    Place two teaspoons of kosher salt in your widest pot and arrange the artichokes stem-end up like that. And just toss in the stems as well, anyplace where you can find some room. Add enough cold water to cover the artichokes with at least an inch of water.

2 tsp. Kosher Salt

4 Chokes Stem End Up

Cover By At Least
1 Inch Of Cold Water

    Now what you cook artichokes in matters, okay? They contain compounds that react with aluminum and iron to create some pretty nasty stains on food and vessel alike. Come to think of it, they can create some pretty nasty flavors, too. So stick with non-reactive pans such as stainless steel or anodized aluminum. If you're not sure whether your aluminum is anodized or not just look at it. If it's got a color on it, usually gray, you know it's anodized.

   There we go. Hmmm. [pushes the chokes down which float back to the top] Hmmm. Floaters. Excuse me.


    Hmmm. [places the steamer insert upside down on the chokes] There we go. And ... we'll need a rock. Ha, ha, ha. Multi-taskers. Don't you just love them?

Steamer Insert

A Small Weight

    Now bring this just to a boil over high heat. If you hate waiting for a pot to boil as much as I do, just grab your trusty probe thermometer, set the alarm for, say, 210 degrees and just push the probe through a hole in the bottom of the steamer. Let it do the work for you.

Bring To A Boil

    Ordinarily I would cover a pot coming to a boil but artichokes contain both chlorophyll and acids. Usually they are kept separated by cell walls but as we cook them, the cell walls dissolve and those substances tangle up creating a new substance called theophylline which makes artichokes look like this ...

Do Not Cover

HAND: [brings a brown choke into view]

... that is brown.

AB: Thank you.

    Since these acids are volatile and evaporate easily, here's the strategy. We're going to flush them away from the chlorophyll with plenty of water and then just boil them out of the pot into the air. That way we get to have our green and eat it too.

Marilyn Monroe was crowned as Castroville Artichoke Queen in 1948.

The Kitchen

    [beeper goes off] Now turn the heat down to medium or just high enough to keep a little bubble break there and set your clock for 10 minutes. Will they be done by then? That depends on the artichokes.

Reduce Heat To Simmer
& Check In 10 mins.

10 minutes later

    [beeper goes off] Now we check for doneness. Luckily with artichokes, telling a done one from a not done one is extremely simple. Just carefully remove all the gear—there—and fish one out. Be sure you let it drain for a few seconds before you try to operate it in any way. Now take your paring knife or any sharp, thin blade and push in right into the middle of the stem. Now it should slide in nice and smooth—a little bit of resistance but nothing too fussy—and come out clean. These are done.

    Now all we have to do is drain. I'll let them drain in a colander for at least five minutes. And cover them with either a foil or a lid to keep the heat in.

Drain For 5 mins.
Cover With Foil Or Lid

    Facing an artichoke for the very first time can be a daunting experience. So before taking up a fork, maybe you should take a look at some of the internal structures you'll soon be facing.

    This, of course, is the stem. And as it heads up into the artichoke it expands into what is called the base or crown. Why would you call something on the bottom a crown? Well, I don't know. Why do they call a pig shoulder a Boston Butt? They just do. These are available frozen in most grocery stores and when chopped fine, make wonderful additions to artichoke dips.



    In the center of the base we have the heart which many people consider to be the cream of this particular crop. Besides being part of the frozen crowns that are available, you can also find these canned and marinated in jars.


    Now just above the base we have the fuzzy choke. When left to its own devices, this becomes the actual purple bloom of the artichoke flower. This is surrounded by leaves or bracts. Now these bracts as well as, well, everything you see here are completely edible when this is young. But as the artichoke matures, only the little meaty junctions where the bract meets the base are edible. They're also delicious.



Leaves or Bracts

    Mmm. Before digging in, make sure you have a sauce on hand. If the artichoke's hot, I usually go with something simple like lemon butter. If the choke's chilly, I'll go with either garlicky vinaigrette or a thin mayonnaise. Yogurt sauces are okay, too, but that's another show.
    Now the plucking order is you basically start on the outside and work your way around to the inside. And remember, you don't actually eat the leaves, okay? You dip and then scrape ... mmm ... against your top teeth. There's not a lot of meat in each bite, but there is a heck of a lot of flavor. Mmm. The Italians have an expression, politica del carciofo, politics of the artichoke. It means to deal with one's opponents one at a time. I like that. I like these [artichokes]. Mmm.

    When the leaves get this small they're not really worth fighting for anymore. So just pick up everything that's left, grab the leaves, kind of split them into two sections like this, and then we're just going to pull. That's going to open up ... ah ... the inner leaves, like this, exposing the choke inside. You want to avoid these little guys right on the inside. Remember, this is a member of the thistle family and it does have sharp points on it. So just pull that away and that will leave you with the choke. Kind of pretty but completely inedible. It kind of reminds me of a blonde sea urchin that I met one time.


    Anyway, lay this flat down on the table and take a paring knife. Insert the knife in the side of the choke and press your hand flat down on top of the choke so the hairs stay in place and just work your way around. The key is to keep the edge of the knife just under the green line, just underneath that green line there. That means you're definitely getting the entire choke off. Now if you've played your cards right, you should be able to remove it almost in one piece. You're going to be left with a little middle tuft but that's okay. You can generally just reach in and pull that out.
    That's the base. Since this was such a young artichoke, there's not much in the way of the heart. But that's okay. It's still really good eats. Just dip, eat and repeat.

The artichoke came to Europe from North Africa
when the Moors invaded Spain.

The Kitchen

    Occasionally the artichoke lover decides to leave the leaves behind and get straight to the heart of the matter. To harvest hearts this is what you're going to need. Of course you're going to need some artichokes. Notice these aren't very attractive. I don't care about the leaves so I tend to buy some that are looking a little past their prime. That usually means a more tender heart.

    You're also going to need a serrated knife—I always like electric—your finest peeler, a grapefruit spoon—one of the great multi-taskers of the kitchen. You're going to need a cutting board and then over on this side you're going to need two vessels of acidulated water. One to store the artichoke hearts as you harvest and one for dipping the implements. That's going to cut down on the surface browning as you make those cuts.

Serrated Or Electric Knife


Grapefruit Spoon

Cutting Board

2 Vessels of Acidulated Water

    We begin thus ... oh, you're also going to need a trashcan. I didn't mention that. Otherwise you're going to be dumping everything on the floor and that's not going to be fun. So take your artichoke and basically pull off all the leaves. When the leaves stop sounding so rubbery, you'll know you're there. Okay. That's rugged but right.

Trash Can

Pull Off Artichoke Leaves

    Now take your peeler, dip, and hold your artichoke out with the stem away from you and peel down and come right around all that rough terrain. Okay, just work your way around taking off not only the fibers off the stem but the remainder of the bracts. Now take your peeler and go around the outside a couple of times just to kind of clean things up. And whenever leaves want to come off, let them come off. Anything that wants to stay can stay.

Peel Stem

    Dip your knife and cut this in half. There.

Cut In Half

    Now you can see that fuzzy choke laying in wait right there. We definitely want to get that out of there while interrupting as few of these leaves as possible. That is where the serrations on this grapefruit spoon are going to come in handy. We're going to use the natural shape of this [spoon] because it matches the natural shape of this [artichoke]. Now just cut in right underneath the choke. The more of this you can get out in one piece the happier you're going to be, I promise. Odds are you're not going to get it all in one. And every time you pull away, just dip these nasty hairs off. There. It'll also keep the inside from turning brown. There. That leaves the nice tender leaves behind. There. And into the water.

Remove Choke With Grapefruit Spoon

   Now keep these in this water until you're ready to deal with them further. And since they certainly can't be in the acidulated water if they're floating out of it, put a small lid on top of this that'll fit in and then use our rock again. There. Oh, when you are ready to use these, just drain them in a colander and then wrap them up tightly in paper toweling to wick off as much moisture as possible.

Keep In Acidulated Water Until You Are Ready To Work With Them

    When properly prepped, artichokes work and play well with a wide range of cooking methods. Just toss on a little bit of olive oil ...

H: [pours in oil]
AB: Thank you.

... some kosher salt, of course—proper seasoning is never an 'if'—and some freshly ground black pepper. Toss to coat and consider your options. These can be sautéed, they can be braised, they can be fried, they can be roasted, or my favorite, they can be broiled.

8 Artichokes
Trimmed & Cleaned

1/4 Cup Olive Oil
2 tsp. Kosher Salt
1 tsp. Black Pepper

    Just heat a broiling pan or a sheet pan with a rack on top of it about 5 or 6 inches below the heat. Scatter out your artichokes and arrange them so that they're all facing roughly up. Now give these five minutes then flip them over and give them another three.

5-6 Inches From Broiler

Cut Side Up

5 mins.
3 More

    Oh by the way, if you really don't want to go to all this trouble, you can use frozen artichoke hearts ... of course you might want to thaw them first.

Frozen Artichoke Hearts

    Broiled artichokes are a welcomed addition to a wide range of culinary applications, from pasta to salads, rice dishes, soups, dips and ... ooo, my favorite, the marinade jar. Of course if we're going to marinade artichokes, we're going to need to come up with an infused or flavored oil. Now with the exception of garlic oil—which I never make at home for fear of contamination by the bugs that cause botulism, they like garlic—I never, never purchase infused oils. Why? Well, let's see. For one thing they never seem to taste very good and for another thing they are always expensive. By making your own at home, you get around both problems.

Artichokes are very low in calories,
but high in vitamin C, iron, and potassium.

The Kitchen

    Our herb oil begins with a pint of canola oil and a cup of extra virgin olive oil. There's absolutely no reason to use 100 percent olive oil because the subtle flavors are just going to be walked all over by the herbs.

1 Pint Canola Oil
1 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

    Now we want to heat this just to 200 degrees over medium high heat. Now you sure can't tell 200 degrees by just looking at the oil. So use your digital thermometer set to 200 degrees. To keep the probe off of the floor of the pan, I'm going to employ my trusty paperclip thusly.

Heat To 200°

    Okay, the only other hardware in this equation is one mason-style jar.

1 Mason Jar

    The ingredients: orange zest, parsley, thyme, basil, oregano. And for just a little bit of heat at the end, a single arbol chile stuck right down in the middle and some black peppercorns. There.

Zest From 1/2 An Orange
1/2 Cup Fresh Parsley
1/2 Cup Fresh Thyme
1/2 Cup Fresh Basil
1/2 Cup Fresh Oregano
1 Dried Arbol Chile
1 tsp. Black Peppercorns

    Now we don't have to crush this or anything. The heat is going to do it and ... [beeper goes off]. Hey, would you look at that. The miracle of television. Our oil's already hot. Ha, ha. Now turn off the heat. You never want to pour oil around an open flame, right? Right. Okay. Going to take out a little dribble insurance. [places a funnel in the jar] Now just let it trickle down kind of slowly. It's got to percolate through a lot of stuff. There.

Turn Off The Heat!


Pour Oil Over Herbs
& Steep Overnight

Artichokes contain an acid which makes almost any liquid taste sweet,
so pair them with a wine that won't mind ... like Riesling.

[opens window and yawns as if he's just woken up, opens herb oil jar, places cheesecloth over it and replaces lid without the top.]

Remove Lid & Cover Mouth Of Jar With Cheesecloth

Place Ring Of Lid Over The Cheesecloth, Tightly

[pours oil into another jar with artichoke hearts]

Pour Oil Into Second Mason Jar To Cover Broiled Artichokes

[when chokes are covered, lids]

Replace Lid On Artichoke Jar

[drains remainder of the oil into a beaker]

Drain Any Remaining Oil

The Food Gallery

    Mmmm. One of my favorites, marinated artichokes tossed in their own oil with red wine vinegar, tiny tomatoes, herbs, pasta, parm and pepper. Very, very nice indeed.

Artichoke Pasta Salad

    We hope that the last half hour has left you as choked up about artichokes as we are. Do they require some light labor? Sure. But tell me, what worthy human endeavor doesn't? Just consider it an investment in flavor. Consider it an investment in good eats.

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Proofreading help from Sue Libretti

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010