I heart artichokes. But I don’t cook them all that often. They are usually ridiculously expensive. However, a couple times a year, around the two harvests (spring and autumn), they will be abundant and cheap. And at those times, we eat a LOT of them.
Compound that with my discovery at the local grocery store of the “wilted and cosmetically challenged” produce area, where I often find three or four slightly-over-the-hill artichokes packaged together for $.99, and we’ve been on something of an artichoke bender — steamed artichokes, artichoke dip, artichoke pasta, artichoke salad, artichoke soup… and my new favorite, fried artichoke.
In my mid-20s, I took a trip with my pal Clay to the “Artichoke Capital of the World,” Castroville — near Monterey in central California — for the Artichoke Festival. I didn’t have a blog then — they didn’t exist yet — or it would’ve made the best post ever. I was doing research for a novel I was planning that would take place in artichoke country, over the course of a year, beginning and ending with the artichoke parade. It was a fascinating experience: we watched the parade, we ate a lot of artichokes; I danced with the artichoke queen.
There was a restaurant/roadside attraction called “The Giant Artichoke” which featured a giant artichoke you had to walk through to get in, an artichoke grocery and assorted artichoke souvenirs and memorabilia. They also had a sign proclaiming their specialty — fried artichokes. This, of course, we needed to try. They were tasty enough although quite greasy, and the thick batter shell mostly obscured any artichoke flavor.
Fast forward a couple decades, I’m making some hamburgers for dinner, and am contemplating my side dishes. I would prepare a delicious dill pickle cole slaw, and was considering some fries cooked in duck fat. But upon remembering the purple artichokes I’d picked up earlier in day, decided to take a stroll down memory lane (“Hi Clay!”) and make some fried artichokes.
Mine I prepared a little differently than the Giant Artichoke inspiration — parboiled, thinly sliced rather than wedges, lightly fried in a tempura-esque batter. The results were the perfect side to a hamburger, but would’ve been equally good in a salad or on top of a pasta.
Act quickly, the season is upon you, and the Artichoke Advisory Board of Castroville will be appeased for another year…
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serves 4 as a side dish or appetizer
4 medium artichokes
6 oz. flour
3 oz. cold lager
3 oz. ice water
1/2 egg yolk
2 cups vegetable oil
juice 1 lemon
fine sea salt
In a sauce pan, place four cups of water and the juice of one lemon.
Peel all but the inner-most leaves off the artichokes. Cut top of remaining leaves off about 1/2 inch from base. With a teaspoon, scrape out the choke and the sharp small inner leaves, so that all that remains is the heart with the most tender lower yellow portions of the leaves. Drop the hearts in the water.
Heat the water over high heat, and cook the artichoke hearts for 15 minutes, until slightly tender. Remove from water and let cool.
Once hearts are cool, slice into 1/3-inch strips. Set strips aside.
Place oil in a wok or high-sided skillet. Heat over medium heat.
Place flour in a bowl. In another small bowl, mix together water, beer and egg yolk. Stir into flour until smooth but still lightly lumpy.
Working 5 or 6 slices at a time, dip artichoke slices in batter and drop into hot oil. Fry about 1 minute per side, until golden and crispy. Remove from heat, drain on paper towels, and place on a rack in a 160-degree oven to keep warm while you finish remaining artichokes.
Cook in this fashion until all are cooked. Sprinkle with fine sea salt and serve.