Market Matters- Who Loves Ya Baby (Purple Artichokes)?

Well it’s happened again. I ripped off KCRW’s Good Food. This time my victim was the chef at Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica, Evan Funke.

When I left the house this morning for the Hollywood Farmers Market I had an open mind about what I would find for my weekly Market Matters post. But when I got there, the market felt a bit off to me. I think we really are transitioning from the winter crops to the early spring stuff. I even saw English peas in the pod. A sure sign that spring is on it way in. But the peas were not really peaking and I’d rather wait a few more weeks and be rewarded with perfect peas.

All the usual suspects were to be found though. I saw great citrus, and the winter greens are still aplenty. There were carrots, carrots, and more carrots. Some nice potatoes too. But nothing really inspired me. Then it hit me. That interview with Evan Funke came bursting to the forefront of my consciousness. 

Okay, you have to understand that I store information about food in my head the way most Angelinos store obscure rush hour short cuts. You never know when your gonna need ‘em and you have no idea where the information comes from. But there it is, like magic; just when you need it.

What I am trying to say is I was not intending to steal from Evan Funke. But, after really scouring the market, I came home with a bunch of baby purple artichokes. It may sound like a great choice (and it is), but it was not really MY own unique, one-of-a-kind choice.

You see two or three weeks ago I had heard Evan Funke talk on the radio about the market and it’s current transition.  Faced with a similar situation as me he chose artichokes. In fact he chose baby purple artichokes. He deep-fried his.

A fried artichoke is not exactly a revelation to me. I have done this before. I even have a few good cooking tricks that can help transform these into an addicting (and popular) party appetizer. They are easy to make and have a huge payoff in the taste department. So I will give myself some credit.

Nope, the part I stole was the way he suggested prepping the artichokes. His method is based on Italian street food.

I had always quartered or halved my artichokes after a little trimming and popped them in the hot oil. 

But Evan described a method where the tops are trimmed and then the leaves are pulled open and flattened. It makes them look like a flower. He said it’s the way they do it in Italy. Now I have been to Italy and I have eaten fried artichokes but they were not prepared this way. That’s why his words were a revelation to me.

By flattening the artichokes and opening them up, more areas of the leaves come in direct contact with the oil. You get wildly crunchy artichoke “petals” and a perfectly tender heart. My previous method gave me only a few (over) fried tips and (sometimes) left the heart a bit undercooked (depending on the size).

These purple artichokes are little pieces of art too. They are a bit bigger than a golf ball and nearly as round. The artichokes I have fried before were green and more conical in shape once trimmed.

As he described, I trimmed away a few of the tough outer leaves. I did not have to take off more than 3 or 4. That is how tender these little guys really are. I then chopped off about 1/3 of the top of the artichoke and trimmed the stem down so that the artichoke could sit flat. 

Using my fingers I pried and prodded the leaves open some. I then inverted the artichoke and gently flattened them a bit more using the palm of my hand. Gently is the key word here. I broke one apart on my first attempt.

Like French fries, I find it best to blanch artichokes some before the final fry. So I tossed them into 300 degree F oil, for about 2 minutes. I then removed them to a paper towel lined plate to drain (upside down). I find it best to work in batches so do not crowd the fryer.

But unlike French fries, which I prefer to cook in peanut oil, I fry my artichokes in olive oil or sometimes half olive oil and half peanut oil. It is a great flavor companion and worth the extra cost. You don’t need the very best olive oil either. Something from the bottom shelf of your grocers or from the bulk foods aisle is fine. But olive oil has a much lower smoking point than peanut oil; so do not leave it unattended.

When you are ready to serve the artichokes raise the temperature of the oil to 360 degrees F. They will sizzle and get brown and crunchy quickly; about 2 minutes total frying time should do it. Again, work in batches, and turn them over in the oil a few times while cooking.

You should drain them well and give them a good sprinkle of excellent salt (I am talking Maldon here) and a bit of pepper. A little spritz of lemon juice is good too. But you MUST eat them hot to fully enjoy their textures!

So maybe you won’t be giving me too much credit for originality this week. But if you make these artichokes you won’t care who I stole the idea from– because you will love them baby!


Greg Henry