According to Bill Bryson’s account of Diversity of Life by Edward Wilson (in Bryson’s own book I’m a Stranger Here Myself, specifically in the essay/chapter titled “What’s Cooking?”), of 30,000 edible species of plants, we in the Western world consume only 20 of these in any quantity to be considered noteworthy. Bryson goes on to say that “Of these, three species alone – wheat, corn, and rice – account for over half of what the temperate world shovels into its collective gullet”.
I remember reading that a few years back and being alarmed and disappointed, though not all that surprised for at that time I was not a very adventurous eater. It was not until a meal at Charlie Trotter’s and a combination of events around my 30th birthday that led to the openning of my eyes – or rather my mouth. Coincidentally it would be on a later visit to Charlie Trotter’s that I would be introduced to the sunchoke, though by this time I roughly knew what they were, or at the very least I was aware that they existed. I have to admit though that this knowledge came from watching Harold prepare them on Top Chef.
Bryson’s book was published in 1999, so it’s reasonable to assume that eating habits haven’t changed that much in the ensuing eight years.
That being said, last weekend when we were selecting our produce for the week Erin and I became pretty excited to discover that sunchokes were in stock. We’ve been keeping a lookout for these for some time now, possibly over a year.
After all this you’re maybe (and hopefully are) wondering what the fuck a sunchoke is if you don’t already know.
According to LaRousse Gastronomique it is “a perennial plant cultivated for its edible tubers, which are cooked and eaten as a vetetable or used in distilling”. Not the greatest definition. In essence, it’s similar to a potato but with considerably more flavor, not dissimilar in flavor to yucca (in my opinion). Raw, the consistency is similar to that of jicama or water chestnuts and the flavor quite mild. Apparently they are edible raw as well (very unlike yucca which contains a toxin in its raw form). Cooked they take on mildly sweeter, earthier and perhaps nuttier flavor.
Larousse includes a few recipes such as Jerusalem artichokes a l’anglaise (a fancy way of saying boiled, after the English who have the desire to boil everything), Jerusalem artichoke pie with foie gras and truffle (but isn’t anything better with foie gras and truffle?) and a salad similar to potato salad.
Last night I simply sauteed them (after I sliced them) in olive oil and seasoned with some salt and pepper as well as a little truffle salt. This weekend I may make a sunchoke soup (not unlike the sunchoke veloute I recently had at One Sixtyblue) or I might slice them on a mandoline and deep fry them like potato chips – I haven’t decided yet.