Culinaria: a brand new food column by JP McMahon

In his first weekly column, chef and restaurateur JP McMahon ponders the Jerusalem artichoke

 

It is hard to think of anything growing in January. Those bitter cold winds coming in off the Atlantic would put a stop to almost anything. Or so you would think. But things do continue to grow. It is traditionally a time of year for a glut of root vegetables: swede, celeriac, beets, parsnips and carrots.

And while most of the potatoes have been harvested in September, one tuber remains supreme in the depths of the winter darkness. In Ireland, we call it the Jerusalem artichoke.

Though, ironically enough, it has nothing to do with Jerusalem and it is not in fact an artichoke. Its name is one of those historical culinary mistakes. The Americans call them sunchokes as they are actually more related to the sunflower. Originally from Peru, they came to Europe in the late 17th Century. But anything you can do with a potato you can also do with a Jerusalem artichoke.

Simply boiled in salted water (no need to peel) until tender, they are delicious in a winter salad with Kalamata olives, capers, salted anchovies and a head of red chicory for a beautiful bitterness. In both Cava and Aniar (two of our restaurants in Galway), we regularly make a delicious purée with them. Peel them with a sharp knife (removing the knobbly pits), and place them in a pot.

Cover them with milk and a good dash of cream and simmer until soft. Strain the liquid into a bowl. Place the artichokes into food processor and add a pinch of salt. Add enough of the milky liquid into the food processor until you achieve smooth purée. In Cava, we serve this purée with beef cheeks, but it goes really well with all cuts of beef, particularly steak.

The rich nuttiness of the artichoke purée provides a wonderful counterpoint to the charred outside and the soft inside of a medium rare steak. For an extra hint of sweetness, you can add some vanilla into the puree. Just split the pod, scrape the seeds away with a knife and pop them into the purée.

Lastly, Jerusalem artichokes make great oven roast chips. Quarter them, oil and season with some sea salt and place in a 180C oven until crispy, charred and tender.

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