SMOKED, DEEP FRIED BUFFALO ARTICHOKES with vegan blue 'cheese' dip
I enjoy buffalo cauliflower bites as much as the next person, but if you’ve ever wondered whether there was something better, something more intensely satisfying, something smokier, juicier, more wing-like, than this recipe is for you. I affectionately refer to these as ‘smoke chokes.’ They’re whole artichoke hearts hot smoked, breaded, fried, coated in buffalo sauce and served with an absolutely ridiculous vegan blue ‘cheese’ dip. I’m not sure I need to continue. This dish kind of sells itself, no? Well, I’ll just say this: I first had something similar to this at a brewpub, and I was highly impressed by how well the artichokes both took to smoke and stood up to the fryer. Juicy when you first bite into them, you’re then hit with a deep smokiness. They’re a great party appetizer or for anytime you’re serving southern comfort or bar style food.
In my recipe, there are 2 important factors. The first is the fry batter. I tried countless versions and methods before landing on this beer batter. It’s heavy enough to really coat the hearts but still gets nice and crispy from the addition of beer. The second factor is the blue ‘cheese’ dip. How often are you told a faux something tastes just like the real something? And then find out that it most certainly does not? Well I’m going to make the same boastful claim here and do it with some confidence: this blue ‘cheese’ dip tastes just like the real thing. It’s flavored with fermented tofu, giving it all the funkiness of a traditional blue cheese dip. Seriously. It’s really, really good, especially paired with smoky, crispy-fried, buffalo smoke chokes.
SMOKED, DEEP FRIED BUFFALO ARTICHOKES WITH VEGAN BLUE 'CHEESE' DIP
Serves 6-8 as an appetizer
-1.5 lbs. canned whole artichoke hearts or 3 8 oz. cans (about 15 hearts)
-1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
-1 cup light beer such as a lager
-¼ cup + 2 tbsp corn starch
-2 tsp baking powder
-½ tsp smoked paprika
-¼ tsp cayenne pepper
-½ tsp salt + additional
-at least 1 quart high heat frying oil such as canola
-½ cup Franks Red Hot sauce
-¼ cup vegan butter
-1 tsp soy sauce
-½ tsp garlic powder
Blue ‘Cheese’ Dip
-½ cup soy mayo or other vegan mayo
-2 tbsp extra firm tofu, crumbled
-1 tsp fermented tofu, aka stinky tofu*
-1 tsp white miso
-1 tsp lemon juice
1. Start by smoking the artichoke hearts. Place whole artichoke hearts in a stovetop smoker along with wood of your choice. I like to use a blend of alder and oak, but it’s up to you. Put the smoker over medium heat. When it begins to smoke, lower heat and allow to smoke for a good 15 minutes. Remove from heat. When the hearts are cool enough to handle, tip them upside down and give them each a gentle squeeze to release any remaining liquid. Place them in the fridge in a covered container to chill.
2. To prepare the buffalo sauce, add all ingredients to a small pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. This can be prepared ahead of time and keeps for a couple weeks in the fridge.
3. Next, prepare the blue ‘cheese’ dip. In a bowl, simply whisk all ingredients together and add salt and pepper to taste. Place in the refrigerator until ready to serve. The dip can also be prepared ahead of time and keeps for several days.
4. Prepare your dredge and batter. Ready 2 bowls. In the first, whisk together ½ cup of all-purpose flour, 2 tbsp cornstarch and a pinch of salt. This will be your dredge. In the second bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 cup flour, remaining ¼ cup corn starch, the baking powder, paprika, cayenne, beer, and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. This will be your batter. Make sure there are no lumps and that it has the consistency of pancake batter. If it seems too wet or too dry just add a little more flour or beer.
5. Lastly it’s time to fry. Bring your oil to 375-degrees in a fryer or on the stove in a Dutch oven. Take your smoked and now chilled artichokes and first dip them in the dry dredge to evenly coat. Shake off any excess and then give them a dunk in the wet batter, ensuring that they’re entirely coated. Quickly shake off any excess batter and then put them directly and carefully into the hot oil. Repeat with remaining artichoke hearts, working in batches of 4 or 5. Fry them for about 3-5 minutes or until they get a nice golden crust to them. Shake off any excess oil in a wire basket and serve immediately. Coat them with a drizzle of the buffalo sauce and serve with the blue ‘cheese’ dip on the side.
*A NOTE ON FERMENTED TOFU. Fermented or stinky tofu is just what it sounds like. It’s tofu that has gone through a fermentation—an intense one at that. The resulting flavor is very reminiscent of blue cheese. It’s super funky and briny and loaded with umami. Some may say that it’s an acquired taste, but if you’ve ever enjoyed a blue cheese you’re going to enjoy stinky tofu. The only thing that might turn you off is the texture—soft, gooey and a little slimy—but here it’s mixed into the dip, avoiding any off-putting textures. It’s not always east to find fermented tofu but many Asian groceries do carry it. It comes in a jar and is usually found near other jarred or canned fermented vegetables. It’s also available online.