Last Chance Foods: Conquering Artichoke Prep

Artichokes can be intimidating and downright dangerous to prepare. The tough, sharp leaves create a formidable fortress protecting the plant. Artichoke hearts are so tender and flavorful, though, that it’s well worth learning how to get past the scary outside.

Melissa Clark writes the column "A Good Appetite" for The New York Times, and she has the chore of prepping artichokes down to a science. When WNYC talked to her for this piece, Clark noted that, while California’s artichoke season is just about over, New York–area artichokes are in their prime. Local artichokes tend to be smaller, unlike the behemoth West Coast globe artichokes that could easily serve as a weapon.

“If you want to get your kids to do what you want, brandish it over their heads,”  joked Clark, who wields an artichoke like a cudgel in this instructive New York Times video.

In reality, take caution when handling artichokes, since they are thistles.

“It actually can be dangerous because each petal has a thorn at the top, so the first thing you want to do is cut those thorns off,” said Clark. “I always prick myself when I do this if I’m in a hurry, so take your time.”

She recommended using a pair of kitchen shears for the task.  Melissa Clark

Clark has another important tip: “If you let artichokes oxidize — if you keep them in the air too long — they’re going to turn brown, which doesn’t really affect the flavor, but it’s not pretty.”

To prevent that, regularly dunk the artichokes in a bowl of lemon water while cutting them.

For steamed artichokes, all that remains is to cut the stem off and plunk them into the steamer for 45 minutes to an hour.

Clark said that there was a secret chef’s bite in the stem, too. Trim off the green outer layer of the stem to reveal the white core, which is just as tasty as the heart.

“If you want to do a recipe that calls for just the artichoke hearts, this is the cleaning that is a little more labor intensive,” she said.

Getting to the heart requires peeling off all the tough, green outer leaves, which have safely been denuded of their thorns.

“When you want to have a dish that’s really artichoke-y, like a risotto or marinated artichokes, you just need to get rid of those,” insisted Clark. “It’s OK, I promise. You’re not wasting more than maybe two tablespoons worth of the meat.”

For this preparation, leave the stem on to get a good grip on the artichoke.

For baby artichokes, just peel down to soft, pale inner leaves. They’re then ready to be cooked.

“If you started with a large artichoke, you need to take out what’s called the choke,” said Clark, who added that the task is not nearly as daunting as it sounds.

Cut the artichoke in half or dig through the leaves to reveal the fuzzy interior. Then just scoop out the fuzz with a spoon.

If all this sounds like a lot of work, never fear.

“The thing about artichokes: a little goes a long way,” says Clark. “It’s a very, very intense flavor. So, if you’re making a risotto for four, you really only need ... I’d say you can get away with three to four artichokes.”

Try The New York Times’ recipe for Fregola, Artichokes, Feta, Toasted, Almonds and Herbs here, or the Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for Artichoke Ravioli with Tomatoes.