Fragrant Boiled Artichokes with Lemon Butter Dipping Sauce - The Rising Spoon

Monday, April 20, 2015

Fragrant Boiled Artichokes with Lemon Butter Dipping Sauce

Fragrant Boiled Artichokes with Lemon Butter Dipping Sauce

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 the leaves off 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.

How to Cook Artichokes |

I was completely mystified until I watched both of them go at it. When I tried the leaves myself, I loved the artichoke! 

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.

how to cook an artichoke |

My Favorite Technique For Cooking 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.

Fragrant Boiled Artichokes with Lemon Butter Dipping Sauce
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'll still use it! Who the heck passes up on dunking their food in melted butter?

Fragrant Boiled Artichokes with Lemon Butter Dipping Sauce

But What If I'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.

How to Cook Artichoke

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

Fragrant Boiled Artichokes with Lemon Butter Dipping Sauce
What's the easiest way to cook a whole artichoke? Boil it! This no-fail method keeps the meat tender and moist while also infusing the artichoke with fragrant lemon and garlic. Serve with a simple dipping sauce like lemon butter or aioli for a delicious appetizer or main course. 
Serves: 2 as main course and 4 as an appetizer

2 artichokes, rinsed and dried
2 lemons, halved
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
Sea salt (for the water)

For the Lemon Butter Dipping Sauce:
Butter or Ghee (like THIS grass-fed butter or THIS ghee)
Lemon Juice, to taste (usually 1-2 teaspoons per person)
Granulated Garlic, to taste
Sea Salt, to taste (I like THIS)

Recommended Equipment
sharp knife
kitchen shears/scissors
large stock pot with a lid or French/Dutch oven
small glass prep bowls or condiment cups (for the dipping sauce)


Fill a large stock pot or dutch oven 3/4 with water, set it on medium or medium high heat, and let it warm up until it's boiling. Meanwhile, if there are any thorns on the tips of your artichoke leaves, snip them off each leaf with kitchen shears. Then get a sharp knife and slice about an inch off the top of the artichoke. (You can look at my before & after photos above for reference.) 

Now go to the stem and remove any small, woody leaves around the base. You can either cut off the stem or leave it intact. Totally up to you. Some folks will peel the stem and leave it on so they can eat the core (the little bit inside the stem). I found that the stem tasted just like the heart, but others have said it tastes bitter. 

Slice the lemons in half, then peel and smash the garlic cloves. When the water has come to a gentle boil, salt it to taste, then throw in the garlic cloves. Squeeze the juice from the halved lemons into the water, then throw in the peels. Add the artichokes to water, cover with a lid, and reduce the heat to medium-low or low. 

Cook until the base is tender enough for you to easily pierce it with a knife, or you can easily remove a leaf from the base (with hardly any resistance). Artichokes generally take 45-60 minutes to cook, but it's all dependent on their size. Tiny artichokes might be done in 30-40 minutes while extra-large artichokes could take 75 minutes. Mine took about an hour til they were super tender, with the leaves almost falling off.

Right before you're ready to eat, melt enough butter in a saucepan to serve however many folks are sharing the artichokes (usually 2-3 tablespoons of butter per person). Stir in fresh lemon juice, granulated garlic, and sea salt to taste.

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? Do you like butter sauce, mayonnaise, or aioli better for dipping? 

Fragrant Boiled Artichokes with Lemon Butter Dipping Sauce

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Elaina Newton is the creator, writer, and foodie behind the blog, The Rising Spoon. She's a self-taught cook and passionate about spreading basic cooking skills and information about real foods. She loves reading fiction, crafting, video games, dark roast coffee, cats, and rainy days. Connect with her on Pinterest, Facebook, Google +, and Twitter

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