I distinctly remember the day I was first introduced to the cardoon. I was the Sous Chef at Clio and Ken Oringer came off the elevator from the prep kitchen and dropped a bunch of this wacky, pale green, tripped out, vegetable resembling odd celery on my cutting board. He told me it would be on the tasting menu that night with bone marrow and black truffles and he needed them for service. What was I supposed to do with this thing? My hands tasted terrible after I held the stalks, (awfully bitter and unappetizing), it had no obvious aroma and tasted horrible raw. They proved to be a pain to deal with and I was already in the weeds!
Fast forward a couple of decades. They are still a pain in the ass to turn into anything edible. They require meticulous removal of long fibers and a thin white membrane that, if skipped, makes them harder to eat and digest. They discolor incredibly quickly if not exposed to acidulated water and they require a long cook time that require time, patience and finesse we as chefs often leave at home.
They discolor incredibly quickly if not exposed to acidulated water and they require a long cook time that require time, patience and finesse we as chefs often leave at home.
But here’s the thing… I LOVE THEM. They are awesome. I have them on my menu constantly and I always look forward to teaching my crew how to work with them. There are few vegetables between Christmas and April that are fresh, delectable and unique. We chefs crave options that are not just roots and tubers, often forsaking all our morals and ethics just to buy something green, eschewing all our politicking of things local and seasonal.
Well, cardoons might not be local, but they are surely seasonal and in the cold weather months I’ll take that. The Knoll Farm cardoons come from a terrific farm in California that Specialty brings in twice a week. Once you get your favorite technique down (we generally resort to barigoule flavors) you have a terrifically versatile base product that tastes like a more mineral, slightly bitter artichoke. Used glacée as a vegetable, or perhaps a traditional gratin with bone marrow reminiscent of Lyons, or a purée served with roast lamb our guests love them. We also use the remaining cooking broth is soups and part of vegetarian dishes so we have little waste which helps with the labor.