Ah artichokes – many of us go through life not knowing what these things look like when not out of a can (or in a popular appetizer). To remedy this, we’re going to share our best tips for choosing, preparing and storing artichokes so you’ll not only know what they actually look like, but also how to eat these surprisingly pretty veggies.
The F.N. Sharp Guide to Preparing and Eating Artichokes
Before we get into how to prepare and eat those artichokes, let’s talk a little bit about what they are and where they come from.
What Are Artichokes and Where Do They Come From?
Categorized as a vegetable, the artichoke is actually the bud of a plant from the thistle family. The edible portions are technically flower buds that have yet to bloom, but that still doesn’t make them a fruit.
An artichoke consists of several parts, starting from the stem on the bottom that leads to the heart – the prized portion of the plant – which is surrounded by bristly fibers called “choke” (it’s aptly named because eating the choke might cause choking). Around the choke are layers of leaves, or bracts, which have pointed spines similar to thorns.
Though artichokes may appear impressive in size, people tend to consume only two parts of the plant: the heart and the fleshy bases of the bracts, although the stem is edible and pretty delicious, as well.
Historians believe artichokes are native to the Mediterranean region. This thistle plant eventually made its way to Spain, thanks to Arab travelers, and Florence-born noblewoman Catherine de’ Medici likely brought the artichoke to France when she married into the French royal family.
How the artichoke ventured to the United States is not definitively known, but theories suggest that the Spanish probably brought the plant to California by the 19th century, and the French might have introduced artichokes to other American states, such as Louisiana.
Today, over 99% of commercial artichokes in the US are grown in California – specifically in Coachella, Castroville, Thermal, and Oxnard. The state boasts a Mediterranean-like climate and soil, which allows the plants to thrive. There are many different varieties of artichokes, but Green Globes remain among the most common.
Although artichokes are in stock year-round in most of the United States, their peak season is usually May through June.
How to Choose and Store Fresh Artichokes
Fresh artichokes should be firm and somewhat hefty in weight relative to their size. The leaves, or bracts, are ideally tightly packed. If an artichoke has dry, loosened bracts that are falling off in your hand, then you should search for a better one. The stem may appear brown, but this is fine as long as it’s not desiccated or clammy to the touch. Some artichoke fans swear by the “squeak test,” which involves giving the plant a squeeze and, if it’s fresh, the bracts should make a squeaking sound.
When storing fresh artichokes before cooking, place them unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to one week – just be sure to cook them as soon as you notice the leaves starting to spread. For cooked artichokes, store within two hours of cooking in an airtight container or wrapped tightly in aluminum foil or plastic wrap for up to five days.
When it comes to freezing artichokes, it’s not recommended if uncooked as they’ll not only become discolored but will also yield poor flavor when cooked. Cooked artichokes, on the other hand, can be frozen for up to a year in an airtight container or heavy-duty freezer bag.
How to Cut Artichokes
Depending on how you plan to eat your artichoke, there are a few methods for preparation. But first some basic prep: start by stabilizing your cutting board with a damp towel underneath, then wash and dry your artichoke and grab a sharp knife – preferably a hefty chef’s knife or utility kitchen knife as artichokes are pretty tough.
More on Knives: The Best Knives for Cutting Vegetables
Now, the first step to preparing artichokes is removing the tough outer leaves and cutting off the pointed edges of the remaining bracts. While some cooks may cut these off individually with kitchen shears, it’s actually a lot easier and faster to simply slice off the plant’s crown with a knife. Sometimes cooks also choose to rub the artichoke with lemon because the acid helps prevent the plant from browning.
If you plan to steam or roast the artichoke whole, then follow the same steps and use the knife to cut off its stem at the base. For grilling, simply discard the brown part of the stem’s end. Now the artichoke can be cooked in a steamer, tossed on the grill, or roasted in the oven.
To reach the artichoke’s heart, you’ll need to remove both the outer and inner bracts until you reach the hair-like choke. Then you’ll need to carefully remove all of the choke from the heart. Check out this video to see how to get to the heart of an artichoke using an F.N. Sharp Utility Knife:
Try Artichoke Hearts With This Recipe: Paleo Chicken Sauce Tomat With Artichokes and Roasted Red Pepper Sauté
How to Cook and Eat Artichokes
There are many different ways to enjoy the artichoke – you can eat the edible parts raw to really get all of the nutrients it has to offer, or you can break it down and add it’s different parts to meals, or you can choose to cook it whole in the oven, on the stovetop, in the Instant Pot, in an air fryer, on the grill or even in the microwave (if you really must).
How to Eat Raw Artichokes
Although eating cooked artichokes is more common, they’re just as delicious served raw – especially when they’re super fresh. And like other vegetables, consuming raw artichokes allows your body to absorb more of its nutrients, like Vitamin C, which is sensitive to heat.
The parts of an artichoke that can be enjoyed raw include the fleshy bracts, the heart and even the stem! The heart and stem can be chopped up to be added to a salad or dipped into a sauce and eaten as is – after the artichoke has been peeled, trimmed and deconstructed, as covered in the section above on how to cut artichokes.
When it comes to eating the bracts, people tend to only eat the fleshy bases (not the entire leaf). This is done by holding the bract from the trimmed side and dipping the base into a sauce, such as lemon garlic aioli or hollandaise, then sliding it between your top and bottom teeth to remove the flesh.
How to Cook Artichokes, From the Stovetop to the Air Fryer
Perhaps one of the most popular ways to enjoy cooked artichokes is in a dip that graces the appetizer menus of many restaurants – the famous spinach artichoke dip. Artichoke hearts are also commonly added to baked casseroles and skillet meals. But, you can also cook artichokes whole for a unique and delicious appetizer.
Before we get into the different ways to cook artichokes, here’s a quick tip for checking doneness: simply pull on one of the bracts closest to the center and if it comes out easily, then your artichoke is done. You can also try inserting the tip of a knife into the bottom of the artichoke, and if you feel only a little bit of resistance, then it’s done.
Now onto how to cook those artichokes!
How to Boil Artichokes: To boil your artichokes on the stovetop, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add in the artichokes and reduce heat to simmer, then cook for 20 to 35 minutes, depending on the size of your artichokes. Although boiling artichokes is very common, steaming or baking are better options since boiled artichokes can lose some of the snap and flavor.
How to Cook Artichokes in the Oven: To bake or roast whole artichokes in the oven, first cut off the stem so they sit flat. Then, drizzle the artichokes with some olive oil and season with salt and pepper, tightly wrap each artichoke in aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for about an hour or until the leaves pull out easily. For quicker oven cooking time, you can opt for cutting your artichokes in half lengthwise and baking them for about 35 minutes, as explained in this recipe from Gimme Some Oven.
How to Cook Artichokes on the Stovetop With a Steamer – To cook your artichoke on the stove with a steamer basket, first rinse the artichoke and open up the leaves just a little to allow the water to seep in. Then, grab a large pot and add a couple of inches of water, along with some flavoring and spices like lemon and garlic, if you so choose. Then, add the steamer basket and the artichokes, cover the pot and bring to a boil before reducing the heat to a simmer. Allow to cook for about 25 to 35 minutes, or until done, adding a little bit more water if needed.
How to Cook Artichokes on the Stovetop Without a Steamer – To cook your artichoke without a steamer basket, simply add about a half inch of water to a pot or pan deep enough to hold the artichoke standing up and bring to a boil. Add a teaspoon of salt to the water before adding in your trimmed artichoke, then cover the pan, reduce the heat to maintain a steady simmer, and cook for 20 minutes or until done. If the artichoke is not cooked after 20 minutes, then continue cooking and checking for doneness every 5 minutes.
Try Steaming Artichokes on the Stovetop With This Recipe: Steamed Artichokes with Sweet and Tangy Agave Mustard Dip
How to Cook Artichokes on the Steam Setting of the Instant Pot – To steam your artichokes in an Instant Pot, add about a cup and a half of water to the pot, along with some aromatics like lemon slices, chopped garlic, bay leaves, fresh rosemary leaves, or whatever herbs and spices you like. Then place the artichokes on the trivent or in a steamer basket, either upright or upside down – either works just fine, but you’ll want to cut off some of the stem, leaving about a fourth of an inch. Close the lid and set the steam release knob to seal, then cook on manual for about 10 minutes for small artichokes, 15 minutes for medium artichokes or 25 minutes for large artichokes, followed by a quick release.
How to Steam Artichokes In the Microwave – Although microwaving isn’t exactly the best way to enjoy artichokes (we definitely don’t recommend it), this is a much quicker option than the stove top. Simply add the artichoke and about a ¼ inch of water to a microwave safe bowl, cover with a microwave safe lid and cook on high for 4 minutes, and check for doneness by gently pulling on one of the bracts closest to the center. If the bract comes out easily, then your artichoke is done. If there’s some resistance, then recover and microwave for a minute at a time until done.
How to Cook Artichokes on the Grill: To cook artichokes on the grill, you’ll need to steam them first using one of the methods covered above. You can either steam them and grill immediately, or steam and store in the fridge until ready to grill. To grill your steamed artichokes, simply cut them in half lengthwise, brush with a little olive oil and place on the grill until you see those beautiful grill marks.
How to Fry Artichokes: Fried artichokes come out super crispy and delicious, and you have a few different options for achieving this: you can fry them in a pot on your stovetop, in a deep fryer or in an air fryer. To fry artichokes on the stovetop, check out this recipe from epicurious.com. To fry them in a deep fryer, check out this recipe from Serious Eats or this recipe from Appetizer Addiction for breaded and fried artichoke hearts. And to fry artichokes in an air fryer, here’s another recipe to try from Appetizer Addiction.
And there you have it – how to choose, store, prepare, cut, cook and eat artichokes! Now go forth and enjoy those artichokes like a pro!
More on Veggies: The F.N. Sharp Guide to Cutting Vegetables