Chef Walter’s Flavors + Knowledge: Crispy Fried Jewish Artichokes
Wednesday, April 09, 2014
The eight-day festival of Passover is celebrated in the early spring, from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan. It commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. Food is an important symbolic element of Passover and fried artichokes complement very well a Passover Seder along with the ritual foods usually prepared for this very important Holiday.
American artichokes are not like Roman artichokes. Ours have tough, fibrous chokes and prickly spines at the end of the outer leaves. Most of theirs do not. In any case, carciofi alla giudia are a wonderful treat: they look like golden sunflowers and their leaves have a delicious nutty crunchiness.
Carciofi Alla Giudia
• 4 medium sized artichokes (they should be large, round, and firm, and have some stem -- 2-3 inches) - figure one per person, and perhaps one more
• A half a lemon and the juice of a second lemon for the acidulated water
• Plenty of olive oil for frying, or vegetable oil of choice
• Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
• Take one, and begin trimming the leaves away, from the base, removing the outer darker part that is tough, and leaving the more tender inner part. As you work your way up the artichoke you will have to trim away progressively less of each ring of leaves. When you reach a little past the half way point of the artichoke, where the leaves begin to slope in, make a horizontal cut to remove the top quarter or so of the artichoke. Next, cut into the top of the artichoke, keeping your knife almost vertical, to remove any spines there may be in the smaller leaves towards the heart of the flower.
• Next, trim away the tip of the stem, which will likely be black -- you will see a ring in the middle of the cut surface. The outside of an artichoke stem, beyond the ring, is tough and fibrous. What is inside is however both tender and tasty. Remove the fibrous part, rub the artichoke with a cut, partially squeezed lemon to keep it from blackening, put it in a bowl of water acidulated with the juice of a lemon, and do the next.
• Continue until you have prepared all your artichokes.
• Come time to cook your artichokes, heat 3 inches of olive oil, or a vegetable oil with a high smoke point if you prefer, in a fairly deep, fairly broad pot (one large enough to contain the artichokes flat, and the oil should almost cover them).
• While it is heating, stand your artichokes on absorbent paper to drain, and prepare a bowl with fine sea salt (non-iodized) and pepper. Season the artichokes inside and out with salt and pepper and shake off the excess. Some people also slip finely chopped garlic and parsley between the leaves, but purists frown at this.
• Slip your artichokes into the hot oil and cook them for about 10 minutes, turning them in the oil so they cook evenly. Remove them to a plate lined with absorbent paper -- at this point they're partially cooked, and you could, if you want, resume cooking them later. Assuming you want to enjoy them now, however, reheat your oil -- it should be hot now, because this is the frying stage -- before they simply cooked in the hot oil -- and slip the first artichoke in, initially horizontally.
• Fry the artichoke for 3-4 minutes, until the stem is browned, and then use a pair of long-kitchen tongs to upend the artichoke. Press down gently; the leaves will brown thanks to the heat of the bottom of the pan, and the artichoke will open like a flower.
• While the artichoke is browning, line a second plate with absorbent paper. Put the first artichoke to drain blossom down, and continue with the next. Continue until you have finished frying your artichokes.
• Serve them with lemon wedges.
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It's an incredible expense of time and money to be among the best chefs around. All of those high-end ingredients cost an arm and leg and the pressure to stay on top is enormous. Most cooks began learning at the feet of their older relatives--moms and dads; grandmas and grandpas. It's this food that calls them back. We see local Chef Jake Rojas rejoice in dropping the tweezers and cooking those SoCal family recipes he grew up eating. Local faves Thames Street Kitchen embarked on a burger concept this year and Providence icon Chez Pascal has its "Wurst Window" serving homemade sausage and comfort food. They're upscale food is wonderful, but this might be their best!
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Every year it seems as though America "discovers" a new Asian country's food and gets hooked. This year it's the foods of Vietnam. Vietnamese food and ingredients have been a part of local Asian food for years now, but this time it stands on its own. Vietnam's food is highlighted by fresh, simple ingredients treated respectfully and flavorfully. Broths and noodles; lightly cooked meats and fresh vegetables all combine in a balanced meal. Locally we love Pho Horn in Pawtucket and Minh Hai in Cranston. Both are very good local versions of this wonderful cuisine.
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As with most things food and beverage, the last 10 years have seen a move towards "smaller is better". Big box stores are gone and chain restaurants are suffering locally. It was only a matter of time until these ideas began making their way into our cocktails and boy are we psyched to see what the future holds. Locally we have Sons of Liberty in South Kingstown, producing small-batch whiskey, single malts and, even vodka. Our state features Coastal Extreme Brewery which makes Thomas Tew rum along with their Newport Storm beer. We've only gotten back into the distilling business here in Rhode Island in 2006 but we think tasty things are coming soon!
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