Fried Roman Jewish Style Artichokes

Sunday, October 27, 2013

These fried artichokes are especially pretty because they are pressed so that their leaves open up and resemble flowers. The leaves will become crispy like chips and the hearts will become meltingly soft. Use very fresh artichokes for this so that their leaves are pliable and easy to press open. Baby artichokes are cute but have a very small heart. Regular sized artichokes have a nice big heart and big leaves.

They look complicated but since there is no batter, these are very simple and easy to fry. The frying is done in two steps--the first frying is at a low heat to cook the artichokes through, and the second frying is done quickly at a high heat to brown and crisp them.

Recipe: "Carciofi alla Giudia -- Crisp-Fried Whole Artichokes" from "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" by Marcella Hazan. Marcella Hazan's recipe is written for whole artichokes; for baby artichokes, I used the timing for baby artichokes from "Baby Artichokes, Jewish Style" from "Vegetable Love" by Barbara Kafka.
Rating: Great
Status: Made several times.
Yield: Serves 2 to 4 as an appetizer

  • 12 baby artichokes or 2 regular artichokes, as fresh and pliable as possible (the artichokes at farmer's markets are often very fresh)
  • 1 lemon, to rub on the cut parts of the artichokes
  • salt
  • ground black pepper
  • oil with a high smoking point (such as peanut oil) for frying, enough to fill a deep pot with several inches of oil
  • Lemon wedges or slices
  • Dipping sauce (such as a flavored aioli, ranch dressing, or Sriracha mayonnaise*)
  • (optional) herbs (such as parsley, basil, sage, mint, or other leafy green herbs) to use as a fried garnish (Basil is my favorite.)
Clean the Artichokes:

Trim the baby artichokes by snapping off their brittle leaves until you uncover the tender leaves which are half yellow and half green. Slice off the fibrous green tips, and then use a paring knife to shave off the fibrous portions at the base of the snapped off portions and on the stem. When you are cleaning the artichokes, rub all of the cut parts with a lemon half as soon as you cut them so that they don't turn black. See here for more detailed information on how to trim baby artichokes. Regular artichokes are trimmed similarly, except that the hair covering the inside of the heart needs to be scraped out (this is easiest with a round tipped knife, such as a butter knife), the inner purple leaves with a thorn on top should be plucked out too, and the green parts of the stem should be shaved off (the green outer parts of the stem has tough strands, the inner white part of the stem is tasty and edible).

Gently spread the leaves of the trimmed raw artichokes as far apart as you can without breaking them. This works best with very fresh artichokes, since they are more pliable and less brittle.

Low Heat Fry to Cook to Cook the Artichoke Hearts Until Soft:

Heat the oil to 250 F in a large heavy pot with tall sides (e.g. cast iron dutch oven).

Add a several artichokes (you can add however many fits as long as there is some space between them and the temperature doesn't drop too much, but you shouldn't overcrowd the pan). Cook for about 5 minutes for baby artichokes or about 15 minutes for regular artichokes (or until they can easily be pierced with a knife; they shouldn't get browned yet), turning occasionally (if your baby artichokes are bottom heavy so they would only float right-side up in the oil, like mine were, you can gently hold them down in the oil for a few seconds with a slotted spoon or frying spider to help the tops cook through instead of turning them).

Remove from oil with a slotted spoon or frying spider. Let the oil drain back into the pot and then place on a drying rack. Repeat with all the remaining artichokes.

High Heat Fry to Crisp the Artichoke Leaves:

When the artichokes are cool enough to handle, gently open their leaves even more and press their tops on a cutting board to press them flat. Press them gently but firmly (using your fingers, a spatula, or spoon), since their delicate inner leaves will tend to fall out if they are pressed very forcefully. Salt and pepper them. The artichokes can be prepared to this point up to a few hours ahead of time.

Heat oil to 350 F.

Add several artichokes to the pot (you can add however many fits as long as there is some space between them and the temperature doesn't drop too much, but you shouldn't overcrowd the pan) and fry for 30 seconds for baby artichokes or a few minutes for regular artichokes until they are browned and crispy.

Remove the artichokes from the oil; hold them upside down over the oil for a few seconds until most of the oil drains off of them. Place them upside down on a rack to let the oil drain. Salt and pepper them on the top and bottom sides.

Repeat with remaining artichokes.

Serve immediately while they are still hot, preferably on a plate lined with some paper to absorb the oil (you can use a cut out piece of brown paper bag). Optionally serve with lemon slices to squeeze over and/or dipping sauces (such as a flavored aioli or ranch dressing).

To Make Fried Leafy Herbs (e.g. parsley, basil, sage, mint, or other leafy green herbs):

I like to use fried herbs as a garnish for this dish since they are fun to munch on since they are crispy and they are easy to make since you'll already have the oil heated to 350 F for the final step in making the artichokes. You can fry almost any herbs, however, one warning is that very large Italian basil leaves can contain lots of water inside the leaves, so be very careful if you choose to fry these because the water can cause the oil to violently bubble up, steam, and splatter (use a long handled spider to drop leaves in the pot, only drop a few leaves at a time, and keep as far as possible from the pot).

Make sure that your herbs are very dry (do not wash); any water on the leaves will cause the hot oil to violently splatter. Pick leaves off them stems (if appropriate) until you have about 2 cupfuls.

Heat several inches of oil to about 350 F in a large pot with several inches of space for the oil to bubble up and increase in volume.

Place a plate lined with paper towels near your frying pot. (Fried herbs have a tendency to be oily, so I like to spread it out on a plate lined with paper towels, rather than a drying rack so that the towels absorb some of the oil.)

Safety warning: When you fry the leaves, the moisture inside the leaves will cause the oil to bubble up and steam until the water evaporates. On occasion, there can be enough moisture to cause the oil to splatter. Stand back from the oil immediately after you place the herbs in the oil until the bubbling subsides. Therefore, use the first batch to test the moisture content in the leaves. Start with just one small half handful of leaves. Place leaves into a spider or slotted spoon. Stand an arm's length away from the oil and use the spider to over turn the leaves into the oil so that your hands aren't above the oil (since they are light you can drop them into the oil from several inches above) and quickly stand back away from the oil; the moisture inside the basil leaves will cause the oil to immediately bubble up and possibly splatter. As soon as the bubbling subsides (it should take only a few seconds) remove the leaves from the oil with a slotted spoon or spider (the quicker that you remove the herbs, the more vibrant green it will be); use the spider to drain the oil and then place the herbs on a paper towels set over a rack.

If the moisture content of your leaves is low and they don't bubble up much or splatter, you can increase the amount of leaves up to a couple handfuls that you fry in each batch. If the oil does not bubble up to much and you are comfortable, you it is okay to use your hands instead of the spider or spoon to put herbs into the oil, as long as you quickly remove your hands away from the oil. Repeat until you have fried as much herbs as you'd like. Regulate the oil temperature to maintain a constant temperature.

The leaves will be very crispy, dark green (tending towards a dull green or brown if it is cooked too long or at too high a temperature), and have a mild taste.

Sprinkle a pinch of salt over the crispy herbs.

* The sauce in the picture with the whole fried artichokes is Sriracha mayonnaise. I sometimes use this as the dipping sauce since it is quick and easy to make and I often I have the necessary ingredients in my refrigerator--Sriracha and mayonnaise, which I mix in approximately equal proportions. I have been using a commercially prepared mayonnaise (American style, since I didn't have Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise), but it is also possible to make your own Sriracha mayonnaise from scratch.

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