The nutty sweetness of sunchokes most immediately lends itself to soft purées and soups, but they're more versatile than meets their knobby eyes. With spring as high sunchoke season, we asked a panel of chefs from around the country for some unexpected ways to bring out all the sweet, savory, and vegetal flavors that sunchokes have to offer.
Just Roast 'Em
Formerly of Momofuku Noodle Bar and French Louie, chef Ian Alvarez recently opened Bara in New York City's East Village, where he blends the culinary and atmospheric influences of a French wine bar with a Japanese izakaya.
Certain foods allow themselves to be cooked in multiple ways, and sunchokes are one of them, but the ones you buy should really dictate how they should be cooked. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes; there are these big knobby ones, they can be round or cylindrical, large or small, gnarly or not. Some have a big dry spot where they were separated from the stalk, which gets really dry when you cook it, making the meat at that point almost inedible.
So if you get a box in your farm share or something, separate them first. The round ones the size of a golf ball or smaller, with almost no white parts, you want to dry roast, 300 t 325 degrees, for up to four or five hours. You get this nice crunchy outside and soft, molten interior. Cut any of the white part off before you serve them. Purée or pickle the larger sunchokes. Pickling, puréeing, and roasting them show different qualities; you could make a whole dish just of sunchokes.
Or Blanch Them First for Extra Crispy Skins
Brad Farmerie is the executive chef behind beloved New York spots like the Michelin-starred PUBLIC, neighborhood gem Saxon + Parole, and cocktail dens The Daily and Madam Geneva, as well as The Thomas and Fagiani's Bar in Napa Valley, CA, Saxon + Parole in Moscow, and the GENUINE restaurants.
Sunchokes become your new best friend when you realize you don't have to peel them, versus your mortal enemy if you think you do. When you roast them you get a nutty, sweet, roasted vegetable; you eat one and it's really hard to stop eating more.
Run cold water over them to get the dirt off, then cut them into finger-sized pieces, sometimes in half lengthwise, sometimes in thirds or quarters. Bring a big pot of heavily salted water to a boil, then blanch them for four minutes and strain them. Then toss them in olive oil and throw them in a 450 degree oven until they're soft and gooey on the inside and roasted crisp on the outside. That little trick of cooking them in water first allows them to soak up the olive oil and get really crispy, and leaving the skin on them makes them look really fun and rustic.
Two-time James Beard award nominee Craig Deihl is executive chef at Charleston's Cypress. His Artisan Meat Share butcher and sandwich shop showcases his award-winning charcuterie on especially hefty sandwiches.
Sunchokes are great pickled. They have that great texture, a unique flavor, and leaving the skins on them adds another texture on top. You can go in a lot of directions: heavy with turmeric for a bread and butter style, or heavy on garlic. Take your basic pickle recipe and play; they go so well with anything—sweet, sour, heavy garlic, or kosher dill—but I prefer a slightly sour brine with a lot of turmeric and less sugar. The sunchokes absorb the yellow color; they look phenomenal.
Better Than Mashed Potatoes
Perfectionist Tony Messina graduated as valedictorian of his class at Cambridge Culinary School before working with Ken Oringer at Uni in Boston. As sashimi chef, Tony turns out beautifully plated sashimi dishes that pull flavors and ingredients from his Mediterranean roots.
Sunchokes work so well in a traditional mash, since they hold up well to other flavors like their potato counterparts. They're a bit sweeter than potatoes, and the texture is more like a fingerling than an Idaho potato, so you get a bit of soft sweetness from them. You can keep mashed sunchokes pretty traditional, with garlic and oil, or add any flavored butter or oil. Try herb butter, a spicy pepper butter, or even a shellfish butter.
Chef Gavin Kaysen worked at Domaine Chandon in Yountville, CA, L'Auberge de Lavaux in Switzerland, L'Escargot in London, and El Bizcocho in San Diego, where he was named a Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chef. He then earned a James Beard Rising Star Chef award and Michelin star working with Daniel Boulud at Café Boulud in New York City, before moving to Minneapolis and opening his first solo venture, Spoon and Stable. Kaysen was also a past Bocuse d'Or contender in 2007, and as head coach recently led 2015 Team USA to a record-breaking Second Place Victory, the first medal for the United States.
Sunchokes are like the new potato, right? I love doing them instead of twice-baked potatoes. Boil them until they're cooked through. When they're warm, smash them with the back of a pan; the sunchoke skin is stronger so it doesn't splay as much as a potato. Then fry them in some oil and throw in bacon, onions, garlic and rosemary, then browned butter at the end. They're so, so delicious. "The new twice-baked."
Pair With Polenta
Originally from Missouri, executive chef Rachel Dow of Chicago's The Betty has lived and worked in Chicago for over a decade. She honed her skills at classic restaurants like Perennial, Blackbird, Maude's Liquor Bar, and Avec.
I sweat down peeled sunchokes in a pan and fold them into polenta. Since they're kind of sweet and have the sort of flavor-altering quality that artichokes have, they add something dynamic to basic polenta. Mine is Anson Mills Polenta (it's a freshly-ground, small-batch polenta) with milk, cream and salt. Right now I'm serving it with a skate wing dish with a caponata, charred asparagus, sweet charred oranges, and the rich polenta.
A Bloody Mary Topper
Born in Bayou Goula, Louisiana, chef Marcus Woodham is no stranger to Southern cuisine. At Tivoli & Lee, his cooking centers on approachable, modern preparations of classic Southern dishes, with an emphasis on local ingredients.
Quick pickle them and use them in a Bloody Mary. To do it, peel them, shave them thin, and make a spicy pickling liquid with sambal, mustard seeds, coriander, a touch of sugar, and apple cider vinegar. Bring that brine to a boil and pour it over the sunchokes. The pickled sunchokes have almost the texture of fresh horseradish with a touch of sweetness, and the thicker you cut them, the sweeter they'll be.
Soulayphet Schwader is the chef/owner of the Michelin-recognized Khe-Yo, the first fully Laotian restaurant in New York City.
I love them like crispy chips, since they're super sweet anyway. Wash them a little to get the dirt off, then sliced them thinly on a mandolin—long or short, however you want. Fry them in canola oil at 300 degrees, just until they're nice and golden. As soon as they come out, you can just add a touch of salt, but I love adding some curry powder or curry salt on them, too. They're great anywhere you want to add a little crunchy sweetness, like salads or on beef tartar.