One January, hidden in the plants, flowers and bulbs section, I came across the gnarled roots of Jerusalem artichokes. Why are you selling them in this part of the market? I asked. The Russian babushka favoured me with a look that said, Another crazy Westerner who knows nothing: Because this is the plants area. But, I protested, they’re vegetables!
It’s rare to provoke laughter in a Soviet farmers market. She brought her associates in to share the joke. Apparently, Jerusalem artichokes, sold under the fudged-French name and pronunciation as Tuppinumboor, were grown for privacy.
True, they can soar to astonishing heights, far outgrowing in proportion their tiny floral versions of the sunflower to which they are related. Despite their name, Jerusalem artichokes are not artichokes. ‘Jerusalem’ is a corruption of the Italian word ‘girosole’ - ‘follow the sun’, and, like regular large-blossomed sunflowers grown for their oil and seeds, turn their heads with the sun crossing the sky.
They are easier to grow than to prepare for cooking, though it is less of an effort to prize the thick skin from the white flesh beneath than it used to be. They have been developed to be less covered in knobs so you no longer need to boil them before peeling them which made their white flesh unpleasantly grey after cooking. Stewed with some onion melted in butter and thinned out with milk, or water, or a light stock, Jerusalem artichokes make one of the most comforting of winter soups, served sprinkled with crisp crumbs of bacon. They can also be dropped peeled, around a joint and roasted. But this version with cod shows them off as a real star vegetable.
Jerusalem Artichokes with Sautéed Cod
- 2kg Jerusalem artichokes
- Juice of one lemon
- 55g shallots (1 large), peeled
- 200g carrots (2 or 3), peeled
- 200g bacon
- 60ml olive oil or duck fat
- 8 cloves of garlic (not peeled)
- 24 pearl onions, peeled
- 5 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 litre Chablis or other dry white wine
- 1/2 litre chicken stock
- 30 mussels, cleaned and de-bearded (optional)
- 6 x 170g cod (preferably loin, about 4 pieces)
- Olive oil or duck fat
- Salt and freshly milled black pepper to taste
Peel Jerusalem artichokes and drop them in a bowl of water acidulated with the juice of one lemon to keep their colour. Dice bacon, shallots and carrots into small cubes. Cut artichokes into 2.5cm cubes. Brown bacon in a pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil or duck fat over medium-high heat. Once bacon begins to colour, add garlic, pearl onions and carrots, and saute 2 more minutes. Add shallots, thyme and bay leaves. Cook 2 minutes, stirring. Add white wine and reduce until pan is almost dry.
In a separate pan, add remainder of olive oil or duck fat. When the pan is very hot, add artichokes and sauté, shaking regularly to brown all over, then add them to the first pan and pour in chicken stock. Bring to a boil and cover pan with a lid. Cook for 10 minutes at high heat.
After artichokes have softened, sieve liquid content of pan into a clean pan, reserving artichokes, and reduce liquid by half with a fast boil. Season to taste, then add mussels. Cover pan and cook on a high flame about 1 minute. Discard any mussels that remain closed. Incorporate artichokes and mussels and set aside.
In another pan, sauté cod skin side down in a small amount of butter, 3 minutes. Turn and cook other side, 3 minutes depending on thickness. The fish will continue to cook when off heat.
To serve, spoon artichokes and mussels onto the plate and place cod on top. Strain garlic, thyme and bay leaves from stock and pour a little of this sauce around the fish.
This column written by Julia Watson originally appeared in the January 2020 edition of The Bugle.