Can you remember the first time you ate a freshly cooked whole artichoke? Most people can! It's an unforgettable experience, probably due to the artichoke's unique appearance and the method used to eat it.
How could you forget plucking off the leaves piece by piece, dipping them in butter or mayonnaise, then scraping off the tender meat between your teeth?
I was introduced to artichokes at age 12 or 13 while visiting a friend. We skipped into the kitchen one spring afternoon for a snack and found her mom boiling artichokes.
After exclaiming that we were hungry, she sat us down and plopped a plate of artichoke leaves in front of us, followed by a few small bowls of melted butter.
However, the whole process still seemed weird. I thought, why go through all that trouble for a little bit of food?
That's a valid question coming from a middle schooler, but I knew little to nothing about food and cooking back then, so couldn't appreciate the effort.
My Favorite Way to Cook Artichokes
It took over a decade for me to eat whole artichokes again. When I finally got around to fixing them as an adult, I followed the same method I had seen as a youngster: boiling.
As a beginner cook, it made sense. All you need is water, the artichokes, some salt, and whatever you want for a dipping sauce (lemon juice & butter in my case). No fancy ingredients to stuff the veggie, no burning it on the grill or in the oven. Just a gentle boil.
This really is my favorite technique for cooking an artichoke. But, I was missing a major component for making the artichoke taste better. Like, a dead simple addition. I don't know how I skipped this for so many years.
The Key to Amazing Boiled Artichokes
I wasn't seasoning the water! Big mistake. This makes such a HUGE difference.
Sure, if you don't flavor the water your artichoke leaves will still taste great, but you'll find yourself relying more on the dipping sauce.
There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but if you take a wee bit of effort to flavor your boiling water, it'll infuse the leaves with lemon and garlic so you won't actually need a dipping sauce.
But let's be real...you'll still use it! Who the heck passes up on dunking their food in melted butter?
But What If You've Never Cooked Artichokes At Home?
Unless you've lived with a person with an affinity for the cooking, dipping, and scraping process (much beloved by artichoke fans), there's a good chance your only contact with this vegetable has been marinated artichoke hearts in a jar or can.
Nothing wrong with that. I keep artichoke hearts around for adding to pasta, spinach and artichoke dip, and pizza, or to eat straight from the container! They're tangy and delicious, but nothing in comparison to fresh artichoke meat and hearts.
If you're unfamiliar with these unique springtime vegetables, have no fear! Their spiky exteriors (watch your fingers) make artichokes seem intimidating, but they really aren't.
All you need is a pair of kitchen shears (or sharp scissors) to snip off the thorny tips of the leaves and a sharp knife to cut off the top inch or so, and you're all set for prepping. Some folks like to peel the stem so it's easy to eat the core later, but that's totally optional.
For a step-by-step tutorial (with pictures) on preparing, cooking & eating an artichoke (if you've never made or eaten one before) check out this post from Simply Recipes.
How to Eat an Artichoke
Pull off the leaves one at a time (this happens faster when you are sharing with others) and dip the fleshy, thicker end into the butter sauce. Place that end in your mouth about 3/4 way in with the inner part of the leaf against your tongue. Draw it out of your mouth while scraping your teeth against the leaf to collect the flesh. (See picture above for reference.)
Isn't it delicious? Discard the leaf (make a pile on your plate), and repeat until all the leaves are gone. When you reach the inner "heart", remove and discard the fuzzy part (called the "choke"), and scoop away the actual artichoke heart, which is a hunk of artichoke meat. Dunk that in the remaining sauce and enjoy. It's the best part!
Notes & Tips
- When looking for fresh artichokes at your local market, choose ones with tight, bright leaves that are a good weight for their size.
- For EXTRA flavor, add 1-2 bay leaves to the boiling water. I totally forgot to do this! I'll have to try it next time. I'm also thinking that substituting homemade beef, chicken, or veggie broth would make the artichokes taste even better!
I'd like to hear from YOU!
What's your favorite way to cook and eat a whole artichoke?
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