Everything You Need to Know to Prep and Cook Artichokes
Every time you eat an artichoke, you're dining on something the ancient Roman nobility used to keep for its own exclusive enjoyment. Now that artichokes are available for all, here's everything you need to know to buy, prep, and cook artichokes just the way you like them.
Anatomy of an Artichoke
To understand how to cook artichokes, it helps to know them from the inside out. At first glance, artichokes don't look inviting to eat, what with their impenetrable layers of leathery, armor-like leaves. But take a look inside:
Artichokes are the unopened flower buds of a large plant in the thistle family that typically produces stalks with one large artichoke on the end and several smaller artichokes below it. (These minis are called baby or cocktail artichokes, and we'll talk more about them later.) A large mature artichoke will have tough, fibrous leaves—some varieties have thorned tips—layered over increasingly tender leaves and a dense core, the artichoke heart.
How to Buy and Store Fresh Artichokes
Choose firm, heavy artichokes with dark green leaves. Some varieties have leaves that are more tightly packed; thorned varieties tend to be a bit looser. A little bit of brown coloring at the tips isn't a deal-breaker, but do avoid shriveled looking artichokes with very loose or split leaves.
To store fresh artichokes, cut a small slice off the stem, wet it, and store the artichokes in an airtight plastic bag for up to 5 days. But they're best when eaten within a day or two of buying.
How to Prep an Artichoke for Cooking
First, you want to wash the artichoke. The California Artichoke Advisory Board recommends you rinse the artichoke under cold running water, and brush lightly from the base to the tip with a vegetable brush. This helps remove the artichoke's bitter-tasting natural coating. BTW, California grows most of the artichoke crop in the United States, while France, Italy, and Spain handle the European market.
Use a stainless-steel knife to cut off the uppermost portion of the artichoke. Using a carbon steel knife will discolor the exposed cuts.
2) Stem (Optional)
If you want artichokes to stand up on a flat base—for example, if you're going to bake or roast them—slice off the stem right at the base. Otherwise, leave the stem on and trim about half an inch off the end. Pull off leaves attached to the stem. If you do opt to cut off the stem, don't throw it out; you can cook it right along with the artichoke and eat the tender inner flesh. Or freeze the stems to make artichoke soup.
3) Scoop (Optional)
Scoop out the innermost leaves at the core—or choke—using a spoon or a melon baller. They'll be quite pale and thin, tipped with purple, and almost fuzzy.
4) Trim (Optional)
Remove any discolored lower leaves. Use kitchen shears to trim tough tips off remaining outer leaves, if desired. Rub all cut surfaces with a lemon half to keep them from turning dark. Some cooks like to soak the trimmed artichoke in lemony water for an hour or so before cooking to improve taste and tenderness.
How to Cook Artichokes and Artichoke Hearts
We love these seven ways to cook artichokes. Before you get started:
- Always use stainless steel, enamelware, or glassware when you're cooking artichokes to prevent discoloration.
- In the cooking methods below, "prepped" artichokes have been washed, trimmed (with or without stem), and rubbed with lemon juice (see instructions above).
- Use your fingers to gently spread open the leaves before cooking to allow heat and seasonings to penetrate to the core.
- A raw artichoke's bright green color will dull as it cooks. Don't panic—that's completely normal.
- Total cook time can vary widely depending on the size of your artichoke. Artichokes are done when the base or stem can be easily pierce with a sharp knife.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Place prepped artichokes into the boiling water, cover the pot, and let them simmer until tender, about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on how large they are.
Some recipes instruct you to parboil—or partially cook—artichokes before finishing them in the oven or on the grill. You can parboil them whole, but some recipes have you cut the artichoke in half from top to bottom, and remove the innermost leaves before parboiling. Follow the instructions for boiling, but cut the time in half. Try Stuffed Artichokes.
Steaming cooks artichokes without boiling away vitamins and nutrients. Place a steamer basket into a pot and fill with water to just below the bottom of the basket. Place prepped artichokes, base-side up, into the basket in a single layer. Cover with a lid and bring the water to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the size of the artichoke. Try this recipe for steamed Artichokes.
4. Slow Cooker
Put the cleaned and trimmed artichokes stem-side down in a single layer in your slow cooker or crock pot. Season with salt and pepper, squeeze lemon over the top, and pour in water or broth to about a quarter of the way up the artichoke. You can add garlic, a bay leaf, or any other herbs and seasonings you wish. Cook on LOW for 6 hours or HIGH for 3 hours, or until artichokes are as tender as you like. The time will vary depending on the size of your artichokes.
Put 1/4 cup water, a generous squeeze of lemon juice, and a few drops of olive oil into a microwave-safe bowl. For two artichokes, use a glass pie pan. Place prepped artichoke(s) base-side up into the bowl or glass pan, cover with plastic wrap, and cook at full power for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the base is completely tender when you pierce it with a knife. Keep covered and let artichoke(s) rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Heat your oven to 425º F. Prep artichokes, trimming off the stem at the base. Season as desired with salt, pepper, olive oil, garlic, etc. Wrap each artichoke separately in a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Place base-side down directly on an oven rack or in an oven-safe pan, and bake for 1 to 1½ hours, or until tender. Try Simply Roasted Artichokes.
Prep artichokes, cut in half from top to bottom, and scoop out the choke. Boil in salted water until tender. Drain on paper towels and let cool. (You can do this a day or two ahead of time.) Season and oil the halves and grill over medium-high heat for a few minutes, turning occasionally, until lightly charred. Try Herbed Grilled Artichokes.
How to Eat an Artichoke
When properly cooked, the innermost parts of an artichoke turn tender and buttery, offering two different eating experiences:
- Tear off the leaves one-by-one, dip them in melted butter, and scrape off the fleshy base with your teeth. Discard the rest of the leaf. The closer you get to the tender center, the more of the leaf you can eat.
- When you reach the tiny leaves and hairy bits in the center, scrape them off and take your knife and fork to the rich heart of the artichoke.
These mini versions of full-size artichokes are so tender they can be eaten whole. If you've ever picked up a can of artichoke hearts, you're actually looking at baby artichokes.
Prepping Baby Artichokes
Peel off the tough outer leaves until you reach yellow leaves tipped with green. Cut the top off the artichoke where the green ends and the yellow begins. Trim off the tough greenish edge around the base. If you leave the stem on, trim a bit off the end. Rub with lemon juice.
How to Cook Baby Artichokes
Cook them whole or halved by boiling, steaming, or grilling. Pierce the base with a knife or skewer to check for doneness. Cut in half to sauté (remove any purple leaves from the core). To substitute fresh baby artichokes in a recipe that calls for canned artichokes, steam or boil them first until tender. Try Chicken Piccata with Artichoke Hearts, or use baby artichokes when you make your own Marinated Artichokes.
What about Jerusalem Artichokes?
They're not true artichokes at all, but the edible root or tuber of a species of sunflower. Also called sunroot, sunchoke, and earth apple, they were used as a food source by Native Americans.
They also have nothing to do with Jerusalem. The name is thought to come from Italian immigrants to the United States, who call the plant girasole (Italian for sunflower). The pronunciation gradually became Jerusalem. It's a theory, anyway. Try Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes (or Sunchokes).
Artichokes rank way up there as superfood superstars. They're tops for antioxidants (sorry, blueberries), they've got more fiber than broccoli or prunes, they help reduce bad cholesterol, support liver health, supply folic acid, and keep your blood pressure balanced. Artichokes are even good for your bones.