It's spring and artichokes are everywhere in Paris. I've seen big globes the size of my head, small purple ones, you name it I've seen it. Artichokes have quite the illustrious past, which makes me happy because now there's at least two of us.
If you haven't already discovered for yourself, they are an aphrodisiac. That's right! You can put away the bottles of Viagra and eat some chokes instead. Wooo!
According to the site What's Cooking America, which provides excellent food history and basic recipes, ancient Greeks and Romans considered artichokes an aphrodisiac. The artichoke was attributed to aiding in the birth of boys. Later In the 16th century, Catherine de Medici made the artichoke famous. She is said to have introduced them to France when she married King Henry II and was later quoted: "If one of us had eaten artichokes, we would have been pointed out on the street. Today young women are more forward than pages at the court."
The nerve of those women! Going around eating artichokes like that! Tsk, tsk.
Well, us galavanting Cordon Bleu students have artichokes on our upcoming final. Hopefully we'll be able to resist tearing our sexy uniforms off while preparing our pigeon, peas, carrots, and baby chokes. I've been experimenting with baby artichokes and I want to make the most of their beautiful shape. I had considered making a purée, but that just seems criminal – like asking Gisele to wear a full body paper bag – or something like that, you get the idea.
I found that when frying them at a low temperature until cooked, and deep frying again quickly at a higher temperature forces the petals to open and gives a great crunchy texture to the edible inner leaves. A sprinkle of fleur de sel and a deep fried lemon wedge et viola – Bliss! (recipe to follow)
I'm using this as my simple garnish (sidedish which contains only one ingredient) but I will serve it with a little bit of tapenade in the center of the choke. This should go nicely with my sweet pea gnocchi, shoestring carrots, amuse bouche of foie gras mousse and confit pigeon leg, and roasted pigeon breast with jus.
P.S. Is that why California provides 90% of the artichokes for the U.S. ? You know, we're a little different on the West Coast...hee, hee ;-)
Artichoke Recipe on next page
Deep Fried Baby Artichokes
4 Baby Artichokes (If using normal size, make sure to take off most of the outer leaves to the pale green ones and cut into 4 wedges)
6 Cups of olive oil, enough to cover artichokes by at least 1/4" or vegetable oil (or a mixture)
Fleur de Sel or salt to taste
1. Sanp off lower outer petals of artichokes near the base. Continue until you reach the leaves that are half light green and are thin.
2. Using a vegetable peeler, peel stalk of choke and trim around base of leaves.
3. Slice lemon in half and rub over artichoke or it will turn brown.
4. Cut half way around leaves to take of pointy tips and then slice the whole artichoke vertically lengthwise. Rub with lemon.
5. Using a paring knife tip gently remove the fuzzy inner choke at the center of the leaves. Rub with lemon.
6. Put enough olive oil in a pot that it will easily cover the artichokes. Heat on medium low heat to a temperature of 210˚F
7. Fry artichokes until you can slide a knife in the heart easily about 5 minutes.
8. Remove artichokes and drain on paper towels.
9. Turn up the heat to medium high under the oil (350-375˚F) and fry two at a time until the leaves unfold and turn golden brown, about 30 seconds.
10. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt.
Note: they will keep crispy for awhile but are best served hot. If you want to flash fry them right before serving you can.