Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.
Jerusalem artichokes aren’t from Jerusalem, and they aren’t artichokes. Technically, they’re a species of sunflower grown for their underground tuber, which is used as a root vegetable. Why the misnomer? The plant was called girasol or girasole (the Spanish and Italian words for sunflower), due to its resemblance to the flower, and then artichoke was added onto the end due to the similar taste. It’s a bit of a stretch, but Jerusalem artichoke seems to have been an English corruption of the Italian girasole articiocco.
Another common name for Jerusalem artichokes was created by Frieda Caplan, a specialty produce distributor and marketer. She decided that the Jerusalem artichoke needed a catchier name, so she coined the name sunchoke in the 1960s. And that was that.
What to Look For
Jerusalem artichokes are in season from fall through early spring, so look for them at the market before April comes to a close. They should be firm to the touch, and are generally tan (2), golden, or cream colored. You might come across varieties that have a red or purple hue, but avoid any specimens that are blotchy, tinged in green, or sprouting. Choose tubers that are smooth with few protrusions (1), as they will make them harder to clean. Depending on how you’ll be preparing them, you can make your life easier by selecting similarly sized specimens (3) so they'll finish cooking at the same time.
How to Store and Prep
Jerusalem artichokes will keep well in your refrigerator for up to two weeks. Store them wrapped in a paper towel, and then placed in a plastic bag or reusable container. Wait to wash until you’re using them, and then give them a thorough scrub down -- they like to hide dirt.
Like potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes have a thin edible skin, but if you don't want to leave the skin on, (if you're making a soup or purée that you want to have an even texture, say) you can peel them before or after cooking. If you’re eating them raw, sprinkle the cut surfaces (4) with lemon juice, or place cut slices in an acidulated water bath to prevent discoloration.
Consider This Fair Warning
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the potential effects of Jerusalem artichokes post-digestion. These roots are known to cause gas, similar to beans. (There, we said it.) In 1621, English botanist John Goodyer wrote, “which way soever they be dressed and eaten, they stir and cause a filthy loathsome stinking wind within the body, thereby causing the belly to be pained and tormented, and are a meat more fit for swine than men.”
So that's an extreme case, but you can take steps to avoid those effects. If you’re growing your own, harvest the tubers right after a frost. In The Curious Cook, Harold McGee devotes a lengthy chapter to “Taking the Wind Out of Sunroot.” His suggestions require commitment, though, such as cooking them for a very long period of time -- like 24 hours long. If you don’t want to cook for an entire day, consider starting with a small portion to determine how they’ll affect you.
How to Use
Jerusalem artichokes can be pickled, used raw (try thinly slicing them and adding them to a salad), or cooked (try them in soup or a purée). One of our favorite ways to cook them is to boil them in salted water till they're tender, and then roast them until they're crisp and browned. Check out the Hotline for cooking ideas too; we’ve had numerous chats about them. Get ideas for a week's worth of dishes below, and let us know your favorite way to use this root!
Saturday: Brussels Sprout Leaf, Jerusalem Artichoke, & Castelvetrano Olive Salad with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
Sunday: Sunchoke Tart
Monday: Sautéed Jerusalem Artichokes with Garlic and Bay Leaves
Tuesday: Our Favorite Escarole and Sunchoke Salad
Wednesday: Sunchoke, Lemongrass and Leek Soup
Thursday: Leek and Sunchoke Savory Crumble with Greek Yoghurt Sauce
Friday: Beef Strogonoff with Celery, Jerusalem Artichoke, and Lovage
Photos by James Ransom