I have never been head over heels for artichokes. They have been on the family dinner table since I was a kid and were a staple at family holiday functions when they were in season, which is to say affordable. Artichokes confused me. The process of preparing them as well as the dissecting involved in eating them seem to be some kind of a ritual passed down by the elders from generation to generation. I must have been playing hide and seek at the beet farm when those lessons were being taught because I never learned them. The thing about artichokes is that even though I don’t understand the attraction to them, it turns out that the majority of my friends and family just love them and feel special when they are on the menu.
Having a firm grasp of the family’s fondness of the artichoke, I do attempt to cook them from time to time, but until now it has been done with some duress. Just recently, a few whole artichokes lurked in my pantry and were in desperate need of cooking. It was a warm day and the thought of boiling the artichokes for a half hour made me wilt with heat exhaustion. I yearned for a way to be able to cook the artichokes without creating a conflagration and reached for the seldom-used steamer function of my trusty rice cooker. The oddly shaped artichokes would not fit in the shallow steaming basket of this rice cooker so I had to get a little creative. I trimmed the stems, lopped the top, and snipped off a few prickly ends of the artichokes to prepare them for cooking. Wherever the artichoke gets cut or snipped, it will instantly begin to oxidize, turning an unappetizing black color. This can be avoided by rubbing the cut areas immediately with lemon juice or a freshly cut lemon. Cooks will often throw a few cut lemon pieces in the water used for cooking the artichokes for this reason and for a little additional flavor. Arranging the artichokes as best I could in the rice cooker, I put about an inch of water in the bottom of the vessel and shut the lid. With a bit of blind faith, I set the rice cooker’s steaming function to 30 minutes, the same amount of time I would cook it on the stovetop. A half-hour later, the artichokes were done! They were fork-tender, prepared perfectly, and without sweltering me out of the kitchen. I immediately drained the hot cooking liquids and replaced them with as much ice and cold water as the rice cooking pot would hold.
The icy cold water essentially shocks the artichokes, locking in their rich green color and stopping the cooking in the process. It takes a minimum of 15 minutes for the artichokes cooling in the icy water bath to be cool enough to handle and prepare for finishing on the grill. The steamer made the artichokes pretty supple, and I peeled the leaves back, revealing the choke like it was some kind of a toy surprise. The furry bits above the artichoke heart are inedible so I removed them easily with a fork. This exposed an artichoke cavity fit for stuffing. I whipped up a batch of my grilled crab cake recipe and added chopped artichoke heart pieces along with some sour cream and cheese to smooth it out. The stuffed artichokes went on to the grill to re-heat, pick up some smoky flavor, and add a crispy crust to the top of the stuffing. Although my dinner guest could at times live on artichokes alone, I cannot. Along with the stuffed chokes, I grilled up a few brats because I was close to having my man card suspended otherwise. Every time I make artichokes, it’s a different experience with varying results. I have cooked and written about artichokes before and probably will again. This time, I was extremely pleased with how the artichokes turned out and there were lots of smiles at the dinner table. My smile was in part because I had come up with a new cooking technique, in part because I had some really yummy mustard to go with the brats.