Fresh artichokes have a much more complex and interesting flavor than the canned variety. They take a lot of extra work, but it's worth the effort at least a couple of times during peak season.
When are artichokes in season?
Artichokes have 2 peak seasons: March to June, and again from September to October. California artichokes are usually available all year, but better during their peak seasons. They are expensive, but are often on sale in spring when they are most abundant.
How to buy & store
Signs of a fresh artichoke
- Tight, compact leaves
- Discolored leaves are ok: that's a natural occurrence that starts when they come in contact with the air.
- When squeezed, the leaves squeak a little
- It is heavy for its size, a sign it has a lot of moisture and hasn't dried out
Signs of a bad artichoke
- There's an open hole in the center and the leaves are loose
- The tips of the leaves are split or shriveled, a sign it is dried out
- It feels light, another sign it has dried out
- It feels spongy when squeezed
How to store
Wrap each artichoke in a paper towel to absorb excess moisture (which can cause deterioration). Then store them in an airtight container in the fridge. They should last for about a week.
Cooked artichokes can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days.
What parts are edible?
If you are new to working with artichokes, they can be a bit confusing. I've found cutting them in half and looking at the different parts to be helpful.
- Heart: the entire heart is edible
- Outer leaves: the leaves are not edible, except for the flesh on the bottom where they connect to the heart
- Inner leaves: these have no edible flesh on the bottoms and therefore aren't edible. Some people say you can chew the entire leaf, but I haven't ever found that to be pleasant.
- Stem: the outer layer of the stem is usually stringy or tough, but the inner parts are edible and nearly indistinguishable from the heart.
- Choke: the choke has a feathery consistency that is not pleasant to chew and can also get stuck in your throat, causing choking. (Closeup of choke pictured below to show feathery / hairlike texture).
How to prep
At first glance, it seems like artichokes require a lot of prep. While it's more than your average vegetable, it's not too bad especially when you know where to cut corners.
3 tips to speed up prep
- Use a serrated knife to cut the tops off and/or cut them in half. It works much better than a chefs knife.
- Skip cutting the tips of leaves off. The spines soften while cooking. (Unless you have monstrous spines on your artichokes).
- Skip treating them with lemon. When cooked, artichoke flesh turns to an olive color. Treating the flesh with lemon juice only makes a minor difference in the color. (see picture)
The best guides on prepping artichokes
If you haven't cooked one before (or eaten one whole), you might be wondering what on earth you're supposed to do. Martha Stewart to the rescue - watch her prep mature globe artichokes.
Garden Betty demonstrates how to trim an artichoke to get to the heart (with plenty of helpful pictures).
Baby artichokes are smaller and the choke hasn't fully formed on the inside yet. This makes them much easier to prep. While mature artichokes take a lot of work to even eat, baby artichokes can be eaten whole (after removing the outer leaves). Most jarred or canned artichoke hearts are baby artichokes.
Other common questions:
No, but you still don't want to eat it. It has a texture like chewing a feather, it tickles the back of your throat and can cause choking.
The purpose of cutting the tips off is to remove the thorn. Those thorns soften during cooking and a lot of home cooks don't bother cutting them off when cooking for themselves, but will cut them for guests. Some artichoke varieties are also thornless and therefore don't need to be cut.
If prepping a lot of artichokes at once before cooking, they will turn brown where they were cut. This only affects their appearance and not their quality. You can place prepped artichokes in a bowl of lemon ice water until you are ready to use them. However, since the difference in color is minimal once cooked, this can be skipped.
Artichokes have a protective outer substance that tastes bitter. To remove it, wash it with a vegetable brush under running water. You will also want to wash your hands and cutting board after prepping artichokes to avoid transferring the bitterness to other ingredients.
How to cook
Artichokes can be cooked using almost any method. The one thing you don't want to do is let a whole artichoke get dehydrated while cooking. Dehydration leads to leathery leaves, dried up 'meat,' and a tough central heart. Boiling is the most fool-proof method and steaming comes in a close second (if you don't open the lid!). Other methods like grilling and baking require a parboil or pre-steam to lock in moisture.
Cooking times will vary based on the size of your artichokes. They are done when leaves are easily pulled off. Unless otherwise noted, the cooking times below are for whole artichokes.
Serious Eats has a guide that walks through three different artichoke preparations based on the desired cooking method.
Boiling is the best method for beginners as it's the easiest to maintain high moisture. Boiling with aromatics can add a very slight flavor to the flesh (other cooking methods add more flavor). This method is ideal for a simple presentation to either dip the leaves in a sauce, or as preparation for stuffing, baking, or grilling. Boiling takes 20-40 minutes and is a little faster than steaming.
Recipes that boil fresh artichokes
Steaming is one of the most popular cooking methods because it easily lets you infuse the flesh with flavor. It's quite common to add lemon slices, garlic, and herbs to the cooking water, adding flavor to the artichoke leaves and hearts as they steam.
Some people steam them in baskets, completely out of the water. Other people set whole artichokes in 1 inch of water, without a basket (which works well for pressure cooking or the instant pot). Either way, whole artichokes take 35-60 minutes to steam. Don't open the lid - that lets out heat and moisture and adds to the cooking time.
Hearts and baby artichokes can also be steamed and take a lot less time.
Recipes that steam fresh artichokes
Baking is the most popular way to make stuffed artichokes. Baking warms the stuffing and melts cheese, which can also be done in a pressure cooker. But the main advantage of baking is that large batches can be completed at once, making it the most practical method when serving a crowd.
Artichokes are parboiled or pre-steamed before being stuffed and baked. This can be done in batches or even a couple of days in advanced (cooked artichokes will keep 2-3 days in the fridge). Once they are stuffed, an entire tray can be baked at once. It will take 30-80 minutes, depending on the size of the artichokes, how long they were precooked, and if they were cold from the fridge.
Recipes that bake fresh artichokes
Roasting artichokes is similar to roasting any other vegetable - coat it in oil and roast in to bring out even more flavors. There's no need to parboil or steam them ahead of time. Just cut them in half and roast cut side down for 25-35 minutes. Some recipes call for covering them in tin foil as well to prevent moisture loss.
Recipes that roast fresh artichokes
Before grilling, artichokes need to be boiled or steamed to soften the flesh without drying out. Once they are ready for grilling, cut them in half, spray with oil, and grill for 3-7 minutes.
Recipes for grilling fresh artichokes
Pressure cooker or instant pot
Like everything else that goes into a pressure cooker, artichokes cooking time is dramatically reduced. Add an inch of water to the bottom of the pot along and place the artichokes in the water. Adding lemon slices, garlic, and other seasonings to the pressure cooker infuse the artichokes with flavor.
Artichokes can be stuffed before being added to the pressure cooker. Make sure the stem is cut completely off so they sit upright in the bottom of the pot without falling over.
Small whole artichokes cook in 5-7 minutes and large ones take 15-20. This also works as a precooking method for grilling.
Pressure cooker & instant pot recipes
Pan fry (baby artichokes)
Baby artichokes are picked while immature, before the choke fully forms. They are hard to find at grocery stores but can sometimes be found at farmers markets.
If you can find them, I recommend picking some up. Not only are they easier to prep, they cook quicker too. Baby artichokes can be cooked with any of the other methods in half of the time (or less). But they can also be pan fried (or any other stove top method).
Recipes for cooking baby artichokes
How to eat an artichoke
When presented with a whole (mature) artichoke for the first time, pretty much everyone wonders, "how am I supposed to eat this?" Watch Ocean Mist's 30-second video to demonstrate.
Nutrition & benefits
- 1 artichoke has about 25% of your daily recommended fiber.
- It contains inulin, a specific type of fiber that benefits gut bacteria as a prebiotic. It has surged in popularity based on recent research, and continues to be studied.
- They are a top vegetable source for antioxidants (USDA report)