Most folks have never had an artichoke prepared properly, at least not if they are American. I only prepare artichokes one way, the way I learned from my father, May his memory be for Blessing. I do not pressure cook them or steam them, these methods to me are the opposite of what I want to do with this incredibly special food. If I want to make something taste good I can never hurry in the kitchen, see my commandment number two, from my Ten Commandments.
I first soak the artichokes in a bowl or bucket of water and rinse them after I have cut around them in a circle to take off the spiky tops. This way the folks eating them are not getting poked by them or eating random dirt hidden at the bottom where the flower is tight. Then I prepare the Bain Marie.
It’s always better to use fresh herbs if you can get them or have them handy. Favorites for me are rosemary sprigs, parsley and tarragon. You can use oregano, thyme or marjoram as well. The artichokes will be infused with the flavor of these herbs, so pick ones whose flavors you enjoy. I put about two inches of water in the bottom of the casserole/dutch oven dish I am going to use for the artichokes. I add white wine or good sherry, and once again, don’t use the cheap stuff, the better the wine or the sherry, the better the flavor. If you don’t have white wine or sherry on hand you can put a dash of Mirin or some white wine vinegar. I rinse a lemon well and cut it in half and squeeze the juice into the water, then I cut the lemon into wedges or slices and add that into the water as well, you may not want to use the whole lemon if you are only doing two artichokes, but if you are doing more than two, go ahead and throw all of that lemon, rind and all in. Then I slice up several fresh garlic cloves and throw those in. Finally, I add some olive oil and often I throw some mustard seeds into this as well along with some ground coriander, good salt and some ground pepper. I let this bath/bain marie get hot, which only takes a few minutes, because it is not a lot of liquid. I place the artichokes in the water and put the lid on, they should have their bottoms covered but not much higher than 1/4 to 1/3 of them should be fully in the water. It is important that you use a pot with a tight-fitting lid and that you choose one big enough so that all your artichokes fit with their bottoms fully in the bain marie.
I let the water come to a boil, this steams them and also infuses them with the ingredients in the bain marie. I turn the heat down just enough to keep them steaming, but not too hot so that all the water dissolves too quickly. You can’t have it too low either or they won’t cook. It’s a delicate balance. If you do the heat correctly, you will have a nice amount of herbed water left over to make a sauce with or to use as a stock for a yummy soup.
Doing artichokes this way takes anywhere from forty minutes to an hour, depending on the artichoke. You don’t want them so over done that the bottoms are mush. You have to tend to them and check on them and be careful when you take off the lid, steam burns are no fun. Also, if the water is evaporating too fast and your artichokes are still not done, add more wine and water before it’s all gone. Test the artichokes to see if they are done by grabbing a leaf directly from them in the pot, if the bottom part you are eating comes off pretty easily and isn’t mush, they are done. If the leaf doesn’t come off easily from the whole flower or you can’t get the bottom part off easily, they aren’t done.
Once they are done, if I am serving them immediately, I remove them from the pot and place them on a large plate all together or in individual bowls. I then pour some of the bain marie water with the herbs over them. You can eat them this way with no other flavors, but being French, that never works for me. I make a fresh mayonnaise to go with them or a lemon butter sauce or a vegan lemon, garlic and herb olive oil dip.
Mayonnaise Jacques, selons les directions de Papa (according to my father’s directions):
All ingredients need to be at room temperature for optimal blending. I use my vita-mix now, but you can use an electric hand-held mixer as well. Mayonnaise is tricky and won’t always come out properly, it’s something of an art. If it doesn’t plump up, it still tastes good and is more like a sauce than a thick yummy mayonnaise. Don’t give up trying to get it right. You will one day.
- Two eggs
- 1/2 cup to a cup of good olive oil
- a teaspoon of Dijon mustard
- juice of one lemon
- white wine vinegar
- salt and pepper
- freshly chopped tarragon or dill
- dash of paprika
In a small bowl combine the Dijon, white wine vinegar, salt, pepper and the lemon juice, mix together well.
In the blender or bowl using the mixer, add the eggs and mix on high for at least a minute or more, then add the lemon/Dijon mixture and keep blending for another minute or two. This is the tricky part now. You will slowly, very slowly add the olive oil in tiny drips or a slow very thin steady flow. It can take at least five to ten minutes to do this depending on how much olive oil you are using. The mayonnaise should start to thicken and will be warm from the whipping it is getting. When you’ve added all the oil, remove it from the blender (if you are using a blender) and put it in a bowl, fold in the fresh herbs and the dash of paprika and put it in the fridge so it cools. You need to do this before you make the artichokes. You can use this on sandwiches, on fish, on vegetables or just eat it by the spoonful, because it’s that good.
In a small saucepan combine juice of one lemon, freshly and finely chopped garlic (one to two cloves), and 1/4 cup or more olive oil. You can also add some fresh herbs to this and some salt or keep the salt out if you are doing less salt. The garlic and fresh herbs with the lemon give a great flavor. Heat this until it is warm and stir, but do not cook on high, you don’t want the garlic to get brown or the olive oil to smoke.
Enjoy these lovelies, they can really be your meal when made correctly. You will need a large bowl for discarding the petals once you’ve eaten the bottom parts. To eat the heart, you have to remove the protective urchin like threads that are inside the heart. This is easy when the artichokes are done right and not too hot, just run your thumb between the heart of the artichoke and the stuff you want to remove. You cannot eat these threads, they are pokey as well and don’t taste good.
Here are the artichokes or artichauts (once cooked with the bain Marie poured over them) in their golden bowl waiting to make someone’s tummy happy. I cooked these in my father’s honor tonight as I remember him on what would have been his 96th birthday. I am so grateful for all the wonderful meals we shared together and the way he taught me to make food taste like something out of a fairy tale!