Emily Hankey (above) is our produce butcher at the fruit and vegetable prep station in New York City’s Bryant Park store. Emily learned her cutting edge knife skills at the French Culinary Institute, and this is the first in a series of posts about how home cooks can learn to wrangle even the most intimidating produce.
Whenever someone hears that I’m a produce butcher, they either respond by saying how amazing that is or they start to giggle because they think it’s silly. (I get it, typically a butcher is behind the meat counter, and not everyone needs help slicing and dicing their produce for dinner.) But the reality is that I don’t just prep fruits and veggies for people, I also give lots of tips on how to make plants the star of their meal rather than just a side dish.
We sell so many cool varieties of produce that it’s common for someone to come up to me, holding a banana flower with this confused look on their face, asking me how they are possibly supposed to cook it. I love that I’m helping them feel more confident in the kitchen — and I love it even more when they come back the next week and tell me how their recipe turned out!
Since we can’t give in-person advice to everyone — this service is only available in two stores right now — I wanted to share a few of my favorite tips. I hope they inspire you to fill your plate with some of spring’s tastiest vegetables!
- Why they’re delicious right now: It can seem like artichokes are a lots of work, but they have such a rich flavor that they’re totally worth it. One of my favorite things to do is roast or steam them whole, peel the leaves off one-by-one, dip them in butter and scrape off the meat with my teeth. Then other times I just cook the hearts and eat them in salads or pasta dishes.
- Tools you need: Kitchen shears, cutting board, small serrated knife, paring knife, spoon or melon baller, bowl
- Prep secrets
- If you’re going to steam the artichoke, peel off the outside layer of leaves—they don’t have much meat on them and can hold dirt inside. Then snip the sharp spikes off the end of the remaining leaves with a pair of scissors so they don’t stab anyone. Use a small serrated knife to cut off the stem — you want to create a flat surface so it sits upright — and top of the artichoke. (If you're just cooking one or two, cutting them in half lengthwise can help speed up the process.)
- If you’re just cooking the hearts, take a paring knife and cut off all of the leaves from the outside until you reach the heart. You’ll still need to cut off the stem and remove the thistle with a spoon or melon baller, but then it’s good to go.
- Either way, have a bowl of water nearby that has some lemon juice mixed in—artichokes start to oxidize quickly, so you’ll want to keep them in this bowl when you aren’t working on them or they’ll turn brown.
Sugar Snap Peas
- Why they’re delicious right now: I absolutely love sugar snap peas. They’re so sweet and I snack on raw snap peas constantly. To cook with them, I often blanch them (just pop them in a pot of boiling water until they turn a bright green and then put them in ice water to stop the cooking). Blanched peas are great in pasta dishes and salads—they taste like spring to me.
- Tools you need: Paring knife, bowl
- Prep secrets
- You’ll need to pull a little string off the peas — just take a paring knife and cut off the rounded end, then pull the string all the way off.
- If your peas aren’t quite as crisp as they should be, soak them in a bowl of ice water for 10 to 15 minutes and they’ll crisp right up!
- Why they’re delicious right now: Leeks have such a delicate flavor — they aren’t as strong as onions and practically melt when you cook them. The flavor pairs perfectly with fish, eggs, potatoes — you name it!
- Tools you need: Chefs knife, cutting board, bowl
- Prep secrets
- These guys grow in the ground and dirt gets all up in the layers. To clean them, take a chef’s knife and cut off the very end of the root and the dark green part (hold on to those trimmings for homemade veggie stock though!). Cut lengthwise down the middle until you’re almost at the root end, then stop (leaving the last little bit attached helps the pieces stay together). Dunk the whole thing in a big bowl of water and swish it around in there. Don’t pull the layers apart completely, but flip them with your thumb like you’re flipping through a book. Then dump out the water and rinse the leeks one more time under running water. Now they’re ready to chop or dice.