What is a Jerusalem Artichoke?
Despite its name, the Jerusalem artichoke is neither an artichoke, nor does it come from Jerusalem. In fact, it is a variety of sunflower with an edible tuber root, and is also known as a ‘sunchoke’. Jerusalem artichoke tubers look a little like ginger root, with brown skin and an irregular, lumpy shape. They have a sweet, nutty, earthy flavour and have been said to taste like water chestnuts when raw, and a mixture of potato and artichoke heart when cooked. The ‘Jerusalem’ part of their name probably comes from the Italian word ‘girasole’, meaning ‘sunflower’.
What to do with Jerusalem Artichokes
Jerusalem artichokes taste great in a variety of different dishes. Like other root vegetables, they can be roasted, sautéed, fried, or even sliced thinly and made into chips (crisps). They can also be used raw in salads, or puréed to make delicious soups, risottos and chowders.
But since Jerusalem artichokes are a new ingredient to a lot of home cooks, it can sometimes be difficult to know where to start when preparing them. They are relatively simple to cook once you know how, but there are a few tips and tricks that can help make things easier.
The main question when preparing Jerusalem artichokes is whether to peel or not to peel. Jerusalem artichoke skin is edible, and has a strong, earthy flavour that some people love, and others find a bit overpowering, so whether or not you peel your Jerusalem artichokes is really a matter of personal taste.
If you decide to leave the skins on, give them a quick trim with a pair of scissors to get rid of any stringy bits, and scrub well with a vegetable brush to remove any soil or dirt. Peeling them, on the other hand, can be a little tricky, due to their uneven, knobbly shape. Boiling them first can soften them up and make them easier to peel, and some people also like to use the edge of a teaspoon to get into all those hard-to-reach nooks and crannies. If you do peel your Jerusalem artichokes, you will need to drop them in a bowl of water with lemon juice or white wine vinegar while you’re not using them, otherwise the exposed flesh will become discoloured.
What do Jerusalem Artichokes Taste Like?
Jerusalem artichokes have a complex but mild flavour profile. Uncooked, they have a crunchy texture and a clean, fresh, sweet and nutty taste, which has been likened to water chestnuts. When cooked, their flavour has been compared to various other vegetables, including potatoes, celery, asparagus, broccoli, and, of course, artichokes. If you leave the skins on, this adds a stronger, earthier flavour.
Jerusalem Artichoke Recipes
If you would like to try Jerusalem artichokes for yourself, here are some of our favourite recipes for bringing out the complex flavours of this unique ingredient.
This recipe for Jerusalem artichoke soup with chips really makes the Jerusalem artichoke the star. The rich, creamy soup is beautifully seasoned with thyme, marjoram and garlic, and topped with a handful of crispy Jerusalem artichoke chips.
Like most root vegetables, Jerusalem artichoke makes delicious soup, and we couldn’t resist adding one more gourmet soup recipe. Jerusalem artichoke and roasted pumpkin double layer cream soup is both irresistible and eye-catching, with a layer of creamy potato and Jerusalem artichoke soup topped by a layer of roast pumpkin soup and finished with a layer of crushed pistachios
If you like seafood, you’ll love this Jerusalem artichoke chowder with Sarnambi clams. The earthiness of Jerusalem artichoke is the perfect partner for the rich saltiness of belly pork and fresh, tender Sarnambi clams.
For a real fine dining experience, adventurous chefs will enjoy creating the surprising flavour combinations of this Jerusalem artichoke, coffee and porcini dish. Bitter, earthy Jerusalem artichoke and coffee puree is wrapped in dehydrated Jerusalem artichoke skins and topped with a porcini mushroom crisp.
Where to buy Jerusalem Artichokes
Jerusalem artichokes are in season from late fall until the end of winter, and should be available at most supermarkets and farmer’s markets throughout the season. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, be sure to check for ‘sunchokes’ too, as they are sometimes sold under their other name.
When selecting Jerusalem artichokes, choose ones that are firm, even in colour, and without dark spots or patches. Soft or wrinkly tubers have usually started to go stale, and discolouration can be a sign of disease. Jerusalem artichokes can be different colours depending on the variety, from light to dark brown, and even slightly purple, but the important thing is that they’re the same colour all over. It is also a good idea to choose tubers with fewer nobbly bits, as these will be easier to prepare, but if you don’t have a large selection to choose from, picking a firm healthy tuber should be your priority.
If you’re having trouble tracking down Jerusalem artichokes at your local store, they’re actually pretty simple to grow at home, and make a great first plant if your kids want a vegetable patch of their own. They’re not susceptible to pests, can be grown in most kinds of soil, and produce a big, impressive sunflower-like plant that your kids can be proud of, as well as tasty tubers for the larder. Plant them in good sunlight in the spring, water regularly, and you can be harvesting them from November right through until March.
To store your Jerusalem artichokes, keep them somewhere cold and dark, and try to use them as quickly as possible. You will find that most Jerusalem artichokes are sold with a layer of soil still on them. Don’t be tempted to clean this off before storing, as the soil can actually protect the skin and help them to keep for longer. If you’re growing your own, the best way to keep them fresh is to skip storing them altogether, and just dig them up when you need them.