Cardoons and beef marrow gratin, a Lyonnais Christmas classic
A Lyonnais Winter Tradition
In Lyon, one sign that that the winter holidays are on their way is the appearance of cardons, otherwise known as cardoons in English.
Cynara cardunculus, a member of the artichoke family, has the delicious flavor of artichoke hearts with a very high meat to labor ratio.
That is, once you’ve decided to prepare them, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the generous rendering of delicious mouthfuls of juicy artichoke flavored stems that make this popular dish.
A cousin of the Artichoke
This cultivated vegetable is often spotted poking from the ground during late autumn in local potagers, wrapped in thick paper or plastic to deprive the thick stems of light in the last weeks before harvest.
This is done to keep them sweet and tender, to keep bitter leaves from forming along the stems, and to protect them from the cold as we near the holidays.
Since an older generation of Lyonnais only had these magnificent specimens at Christmas growing up, they profit from a nostalgic popularity.
At the market, questioning women of a certain age on how they cook them reveals that many of them left that task to their grandmothers and the secrets went with them to the grave.
The kitchen notebooks of various cuisiniers and gourmands shave varying renditions that overlap and intertwine along our journey, and in the end I have found that the simplest ways often yield the best results.
Cardons look like monster celery but the taste is very different.
Cardons are grown for their thick meaty stems, and look like monster celery at first glance. Indeed one bunch will often measure close to a meter in length when sold whole.
People who don’t know and love them might shy away, citing difficulty in preparation, but in fact preparing cardons in the traditional way could not be easier.
You can often find cardons ready to cook, having been stripped of their strings and chopped, from producers along the Croix Rousse market as well. Give them a try this year. They might just make your winter vegetable dish rotation a little bit more interesting this year.
RECIPE: Cardons à la moëlle
- 1 bunch cardons (cardoons), or about 2 kilos or 4.5 pounds
- 4 liters or quarts water
- 100 g flour, or 5 tablespoons
- the juice of 1 lemon
- 25 cl cooking liquid from the cardons(cardoons)
- 1 clove of garlic
- 2 teaspoons of butter, or enough to grease a baking pan
- 50 cl veal, chicken, or vegetable stock, or two cups
- ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper
- nutmeg, to season
- 40 grams grated hard cooked cheese, or 1/2 cup grated
- 100 g beef marrow, or from 3-4 bone segments from the butcher
- 10-15 g parsley, 5 full sprigs, leaves only, enough to garnish
- Cut the individual stalks from the cardons, and then trim the core. Cut any leaves growing from each stalk, since they are bitter.
- With a paring knife, remove as much of the strings from the length of each cardon stalk on the outer side as you can. Note: the strings are on the side of the stalk with the grooves in it.
- Cut the trimmed stalks into 4 cm or 1.5″ lengths and transfer them directly to soak in big salad bowl containing water and 5 tablespoons flour and the juice of a lemon. Cut the trimmed core (it’s edible) into 1 cm or 1/2 ” thick slices and also add it to the liquid. Let the cardons soak in this liquid until it is time to cook them.
- Put the cardons and liquid they soaked in into a large simmering pot and add water to cover. Bring them to a boil, stirring for the first few minutes, then lower the heat to allow them to simmer gently for an hour, or until tender and releasing the aroma of artichokes.
- You can test to see if they’re done by tasting a piece. They should be soft enough to bite through easily but still tender-crisp (they will soften further in the oven).
- Rub a gratin pan with raw garlic and butter. Strain the cardons, saving 2 cups or 50 cl of the cooking liquid, and put them into the garlic rubbed gratin pan. Add the stock to the reserved cooking liquid, stir, and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
- Pour the veal stock preparation over the cardons. Top with slices of raw veal or beef marrow. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes in a hot oven (200ºC/400ºF), adding the optional cheese during the last few minutes.
- Dust the surface of the gratin with fresh minced parsley leaves and serve in the gratin dish they were cooked in.