There are a number of ingredients that I often wonder how anyone ever thought could be edible, or even tasty. Olives are one of these as when the olive comes off the tree, it is unbelievably bitter. Artichokes are another. Who would have looked at this oversized thistle and thought "Maybe this thorny flower bud, if handled and cooked correctly, could be a succulent treat?" or "Maybe if I cook it and scrape the leaves between my teeth, I could be treated to a sweet vegetal pulp?"
The artichoke still is a mystery to most. If you grab a thorny variety incorrectly, you might get a nasty poke. If you lick your fingers after working with raw artichokes, you will be surprised by a pungent bitterness. To most, getting to the heart of the artichoke, its most succulent part, is a challenge.
This is undoubtedly a vegetable that requires some knowledge on how to handle and cook. It is justifiably and historically considered a deluxe item. It is a pricey vegetable because artichokes have low yields. But this is not a vegetable that is impossible to cook. It does require a couple basic skills, but once mastered, the artichoke is easily tamed. Artichokes are typically served whole, hearts only, or quartered. The following photos will show you how to approach this truly special vegetable.
TO SERVE WHOLE:
To serve an artichoke whole, it is first necessary to remove the tops, which is where one finds the thorns. To do this, trim the tops with a sturdy pair of scissors. Once the outer leaves are trimmed, cut the top of the artichoke off using a chef knife. Cook the artichoke in boiling water with salt and lemon juice (about 1 T. of lemon juice per 2 qt. of water) and any seasonings like bay leaf and thyme. The artichoke is done when a paring knife can be easily inserted into the bottom of the artichoke.
Trimming the thorns from each leaf.
Cutting the top off the artichoke.
The artichoke is ready for cooking.
TO CUT THE HEART FROM THE ARTICHOKE:
To many the heart is the most prized part of the artichoke. Fresh hearts are infinitely better than the canned variety and certainly worth the extra effort!
The first step in getting to the artichoke heart is to cut off the stem of the artichoke using a sharp sturdy knife like a chef knife.
TWO TECHNIQUES FOR REMOVING THE EXTERIOR LEAVES:
One technique for getting to the heart of the artichoke is to pull off the exterior leaves one by one until the heart becomes visible. Be careful not to get poked by a thorn!
The other technique for removing the exterior leaves is to cut them off using a very sharp boning or paring knife. Cut only at the base of the leaf and not into the hard heart.
Once the heart is visible, cut the top of the artichoke off by first locating the top of the heart (this is simply done by feeling the artichoke--starting at the bottom of the artichoke and feeling progressively upwards. The heart will feel hard; where there is no heart, the leaves will feel noticeably soft). Cut through the leaves at the top of the artichoke using a sharp sturdy knife like a Chef Knife. Rub the heart with lemon and cook in boiling, salted, and lightly acidulated (with lemon juice) water until the hearts are tender.
QUARTERED ARTICHOKE HEARTS FOR BRAISING:
Braising quartered artichoke hearts is one of the most flavorful ways of preparing artichokes. To prepare artichoke hearts for braising start by trimming the exterior leaves as for the artichoke heart technique. Do not cut the stem off.
Peel the stem of the artichoke using a paring knife.
Scrape out the "choke" or the fuzzy center of the artichoke heart.
Rub with lemon to prevent the artichoke from discoloring.
Cut the artichoke heart and stem into sections.
The finished product.