living underground in the real world

jerusalem artichokes: a pictorial tutorial

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The other night Jacob was going through some boxes in his office, and he came across two Playboys in a box of junk people had left on some tour bus or other. I know you’re thinking that they were his and saying he found them on the bus was his quick-witted excuse, but anyone who knows Jacob knows how laughable that is. Either way, I of course had to spend the rest of the night reading every word of them.

WOW! PLAYBOY! So tame compared to the wild wild internet. I know I should go through them and pull out the zillions of Women’s-Studies-major-term-papery topics (“Legs spread, mouth shut: the discursive semiotics of speech and silence in Playboy, November 2007,” or maybe just “From ‘Flame Crotch’ to ‘Landing Strip': pubic hair fashions through the ages”), but I didn’t want to touch them all that much, and a feminist deconstructing Playboy is, I suppose, so passé.

So, all I will say is that they really made me want to use the word pictorial in everyday speech. This, combined with the realization that no one seems to know what to do with or how wonderful are Jerusalem artichokes (variously also called “sunchokes”), herewith, some serious veggie porn!

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While standing at a friend’s farmstand this fall, I watched probably ten people in a row ask her, “Jerusalem artichokes? How do you cook them?” I stood there for twenty minutes or so just saying “ROAST THEM!!!” over and over and over, so maybe I should tell the entire world how utterly breathtakingly amazing roasted Jerusalem artichokes are. They are seriously rad, and you need to try them.

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They are so nice raw, too, thinly sliced and dressed with a nice vinaigrette—perfect!

And! the most amazing, hauntingly complex soups can be made by peeling them, slicing them as thinly as possible, then sautéing them slowly in olive oil with some lightly browned onions until super super soft. Add some coconut milk, lemon juice, s&p, and puree until super velvety (strain through cheesecloth or pass through a ricer for the most perfect texture) for a truly strange and most wonderful soup. Add herbs and spices as you see fit, but with a very light hand so you don’t mask the wonderful sunchokey flavor. I saw somewhere that someone added lemongrass to a soup like this, and these days I add a little lemongrass extract (because I get nice organic extracts here and because I am too lazy to fiddle with the real thing–though it’s so easy: just chop it up and simmer it in the coconut milk for a few minutes, then strain it.).

The rules for roasted sunchokes:

They are always insanely dirty, and are a good excuse to buy a little veggie scrubby brush.

Don’t peel them unless you are puréeing them. The peels, while magnificently dirty, are also magnificently flavorful. I’m not one of those dirty hippies who refuses to peel veggies, but I never peel sunchokes, because half their flavor is in the peel. Also, you can’t really roast a peeled sunchoke, because it will disintegrate. A properly roasted whole unpeeled sunchoke is basically a marvelously mushy bag of flavor, and you really need that skin to hold it all together.

So you’ve washed them and scrubbed and scrubbed, and there are some parts that are so dirty that you just have to peel them:

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That’s OK, just minimize the peeling. These particular ‘chokes were very long and skinny, but the ideal is a small, round little dude—that way you can roast them whole, which is really best to get the “bag of flavor” effect discussed above.

Then chop them, if you have to:

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Could I take a non-blurry picture if my life depended on it? Probably not.

And roast. You know the deal, high heat, stir, olive oil, sea salt, pepper, blah blah. I roast mine at 475°F or even 500°F until a thin-bladed knife slips in and out of the center of one easily.

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Steamy!

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9 Responses to “jerusalem artichokes: a pictorial tutorial”

  1. Dustin Rhodes

    Do they take about as long as, say, potatoes to roast? Say 20-30 minutes at 450-500-ish degrees?

    Reply
  2. lagusta

    Yep, I’d say about 20-30 minutes depending how old they are (older ones will take longer) and how big, and I’d do 475-500 degrees.

    Reply
  3. Dustin Rhodes

    Apparently, no one is Washington, DC gives a crap about Jerusalem artichokes; I can’t find any anywhere!

    Reply
    • lagusta

      Hmm, did you a try an elusive winter farmer’s market? You might have to wait until next fall, sadly.

      Reply
  4. ecclescake

    I’d like to say that I’m not usually one to be nonplussed when faced with fruits/veggies I’ve never eaten before, but Jerusalem artichokes definitely confused me. But I just bought a pound at the farmer’s market and I can’t wait to roast ‘em up! I hope they come out as tasty as yours look.

    Reply
  5. maresa

    I remember that “roast them!” day clearly! It was fun to continue your cooking advice after you left, because let me tell you, the question of what to do with them continued for the rest of the selling day. What did I tell them the following week, though, after I roasted them myself? Never Buy Jerusalem Artichokes.

    Reply

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