During our last spring in San Francisco, Elizabeth and I ate steamed artichokes almost every night. It wasn’t a conscious thing, but it was as if we knew that, in leaving California, we weren’t going to have them this good again. (We were right.) I can still smell that tiny kitchen on Steiner Street and can still see through its windows out onto Alamo Square. When I do, it’s usually artichokes that come to mind.
Elizabeth’s such a master of the steam-with-dipping-sauce route that we haven’t really explored other ways of using the artichoke at home. Brys and I have been doing that for this week’s root source, in which we’re looking at the standard green globe artichoke.
Using a fresh artichoke just for the heart and bottom requires a lot of yanking, trimming and scraping. In order to get the most meat, you have to carefully work the base into a torch shape. It’s a lot of work, and it got us wondering: Are there good alternatives to fresh artichoke hearts?
To find out, we tested various brands of canned, jarred and frozen artichoke hearts.
Canned artichoke hearts (several brands)
Color: Straw gold to pale goldenrod
Smell: Earthy, stemmy, like an artichoke but with a slight hint of fizz
Texture: Consistently limp, sodden.
Taste: Raw, it was okay. Mild but flat, not astringent.
Verdict: In a pinch, canned artichoke hearts would work thinly sliced in a salad. Several attempts to roast them all failed. Even drained and squeezed dry, they came out of a 450F oven unbrowned, just hot versions of their limp selves.
Jarred, marinated artichoke hearts (several brands)
Color: Pale yellow to seaweed green
Smell: Vinegary, like generic Italian dressing
Texture: Like a real artichoke, with a softer heart and firmer bottom
Taste: Like anything else marinated in Italian dressing, but with a chemical, tinny taste. They all seemed to use the same marinating formula, though several of the brands had a strange shrimp-like flavor. In a word: disgusting.
Verdict: None of the jarred artichokes we tried were good enough to buy again. Better to buy canned, frozen or fresh and marinate your own.
Frozen artichoke hearts (Bird’s Eye)
Color: Light to grassy green, like an actual artichoke heart
Smell: Stemmy, like a trash can in a flower shop (in a good way)
Texture: More like an artichoke than many of the fresh artichokes we used. After thawing them in a saucepan and letting them cool, the wavy top meat was delicate while the bottoms were firm.
Taste: Delicious. Again, better quality than some of the fresh artichoke we bought. Raw, they had that mild sweetness with no astringency. Roasted, they browned well and were indistinguishable in flavor from fresh hearts we roasted alongside. Same situation in a chicken ragout.
Verdict: This was the only brand we could track down in a day. The hearts are frozen as quarters or eighths. While you obviously can’t stuff these (and we haven’t tried them in a soup yet), we’d use them in just about any dish that calls for artichoke hearts.