An artichoke is one of those foods that can seem like it's not worth the trouble. The best-tasting part of it, the heart, is buried within a cluster of thorn-topped petals that resemble armor plating, and is situated beneath a hairy clump of immature petals that look, and taste, a bit like a beard.
But clearly, people do eat these things. The question is, how?
What Is An Artichoke?
An artichoke is the immature flower bud of a plant in the thistle family. If you've never seen one bloom, they actually open up into bright purple blossoms about six inches across, with the flower itself made up of a tight cluster of slender purple tendrils. It's strangely like a purple sunflower. These blossoms will attract bees and butterflies like nobody's business.
The only downside is that once they've bloomed, they're no good to eat. And for us, eating them is what it's all about.
How to Eat an Artichoke
There are a couple of ways to prepare and eat an artichoke. One is to trim almost all of it away to leave just the heart, and then prepare and eat that. Although there's more work up front, the eating process is much easier, since the heart itself is fully edible. Here's a guide on how to do that.
The other way, which is what we'll be discussing here, is to prepare the artichoke whole, other than just trimming off the tips of the leaves, and then serving it with all its leaves still attached. Using this method means that when it comes time to eat it, you're going to have to follow a system.
How to Eat a Whole Artichoke
There are a lot of ways you can prepare a whole artichoke for serving it this way. You can steam it in a steamer basket, simmer it in a covered pot, cook them in the microwave, or wrap them in foil and bake them (which is effectively steaming them).
You may have noticed that all of these are moist-heat cooking methods, and these tend to be the best since an artichoke can dry out if you tried cooking it with dry heat (say, by roasting it uncovered in the oven).
With that said, you can cook an artichoke on the grill, but you have to slice it lengthwise. The high temperature of the grill ensures it cooks quickly, but you need to take care to avoid overcooking it.
And by the way, the stem of the artichoke is also edible, but you have to peel it first. Depending on your cooking method, you may want to remove the stem altogether, so that it stands up straight. But the stem is actually as tasty as the heart.
In any case, to steam an artichoke, first cut off the stem so that the artichoke will stand upright in your steamer basket. Then slice off the top inch or so of the petals, so that it's flat and the yellow interior is revealed. This will remove most but not all of the thorns from the tips of those leaves, but to remove the rest, simply snip off the tips of the remaining leaves with kitchen shears.
Drizzle the top with olive oil and insert a garlic clove into the center. Sprinkle some Kosher salt on there as well, along with a squeeze of lemon juice, then place it face-up on your steamer basket. Depending on the size of your pot and steamer basket, and the artichokes themselves, you may be able to do 2 to 4 artichokes at a time. Steam for about 45 minutes.
To check for doneness, flip the artichoke over and insert the tip of a sharp knife into the center where the stem was. If it goes in easily, it's done. If it's still hard, it needs more time.
You can eat it either hot or cold. Either way, start at the base of the artichoke and pull off one petal. If it's properly cooked, it should come off easily if the artichoke has been properly cooked.
Now, the important thing to mention here is that you do not eat the whole leaves. The only edible part of the leaves is the slightly meaty edge at the base of the leaf, where it detaches from the main body of the artichoke.
It's traditional to serve the artichoke with some sort of dipping sauce, such as Hollandaise, mayonnaise or melted butter. So pull off a leaf, dip the base of the leaf in your dipping sauce, then draw the base of the leaf, at its widest part, through your teeth to scrape away the soft fleshy portion. When you're done, discard the rest of the leaf.
Continue pulling off and eating the leaves one at a time. They'll become tenderer as you progress upward from the base and will offer larger edible portions as you go.
Eventually, you will reach the hairy choke, which is the undeveloped flower at the center. Don't eat this either! It will literally choke you, and it will just feel weird and hairy in your mouth. Instead, remove and discard the choke by scraping a teaspoon along the top of the choke.
What remains is the artichoke's bottom or heart, which is arguably the best part of the whole thing, sort of the reward that awaits you for having made it that far. Cut into it with a knife and fork and it and eat it.