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.
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)
- half or part of a lemon, to rub on the cut parts of the artichokes
- 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 dipping sauce (such as a flavored aioli, ranch dressing, or Sriracha mayonnaise*)
- (optional - nontraditional) holy basil to use as a fried garnish
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.
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.
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 pan (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. Wet your fingers with cold water and carefully sprinkle the water over the artichokes--quickly stand back away from the stove since the water will cause the oil to bubble up for a few seconds. Remove the artichokes as soon as the splattering dies down. Place them on a rack to let the oil drain. Salt and pepper them. 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 or dipping sauces (such as a flavored aioli or ranch dressing).
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. In the picture above, the baby artichokes are shown topped with fried holy basil. Holy basil is an eastern tropical plant; it isn't Roman, Italian, or Jewish, but I used it as a garnish here since I like it. The whole artichokes are shown topped with fried parsley leaves.
To make fried leafy herbs (e.g. parsley, basil, sage, mint, or other leafy green herbs): 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 few handfuls of the leaves into the oil (since they are light you can drop them into the oil from several inches above) and quickly remove your hands (and yourself) 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). 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. 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 a mild taste.
* 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.