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Ingredient Challenge: Sunflower Chokes

Image of Chef Tony
The Sunflower Choke’s mild, nut-like taste is incorporated into the chef’s version of a traditional Korean preparation of spicy short ribs. The chef’s Korean Braised Short Ribs with Jerusalem Artichokes is a rustic and unpretentious dish that is a composite of rich tastes achieved by a deliberate layering of the ingredients during the cooking process. In fact, this is one of those recipes that will fill your home with a wonderful aroma that thickens as its flavors mature. Besides being absolutely delicious, it’s a fun dish to serve to guests just to enjoy their reactions as that aroma greets them at the door. The dish continues to contribute to the party by providing a comfortable, relaxed ambience that permeates the air long before the actual serving. The dish truly demonstrates the power of culinary aroma therapy!

For this writer, Chef Tony’s dish also reminded me just how much I prefer the pleasant earthy flavor of the Sunflower Choke (aka Jerusalem artichoke or Sunchoke) over, say, the common white potato. The multiple names of this root are very confusing and downright deceiving. It is the root of a flower, but not the Sunflower; instead, it is from an oversized, golden yellow, floppy, daisy-like wildflower, which grows and blooms in clusters of three. It does not come from Jerusalem either and, in fact, is an indigenous vegetable of this country, that grew wild in the Northeast and eastern Canada. Native Americans introduced the root to early explorers as a food source, calling it Askibwan meaning “raw thing”. However, knowing that this description would never catch on in Europe, Italian settlers christened the root girasole, a general Italian term for all flowers that are attracted to the sun. Only the god of etymology knows how this word morphed into “Jerusalem” in the last few centuries, but the misnomer has stuck. The “artichoke” part of the confusion can be blamed on an early French explorer to this country who simply likened the sunchoke’s taste to that of artichokes in his travel notes and the rumor became fact. However, while both are members of the daisy family, the root is only a very distant cousin, many times removed, of the artichoke.

Though the tastes are much different, Sunflower Chokes can be prepared in the same way that one would cook a potato. Unlike the potato, the choke can also be eaten raw, adding a crunchy clean sweetness to salads or served with a dip as an appetizer. Another big distinction between the two is that this tuberous root is not only starch free, but contains inulin, a carbohydrate that the body converts into a natural form of sugar, making them particularly valuable in restricted diets, especially diabetes. While Chef Tony’s recipe calls for peeling, the skins are edible with a good scrubbing.

The chef’s recipe is very straightforward and easy to follow. When purchasing the short ribs for this dish, be sure they are flanken-style and not the more common English-style cut. Further, if you have to special order them from your local butcher, be sure to specify a thickness of 1½ - 2 inches. I learned this the hard way when my butcher presented me with a half-inch thick cut of ribs that he called a “kalbi cut” that he claimed was just another name for flanken. After talking it over with the chef and doing some research on the Internet, it turns out that the butcher’s confusion stemmed from a Korean name given to a Western version of this cut that was apparently developed in Los Angeles and is much thinner than a true flanken-style. Suffice it to say; insist on a thick, cross-cut style rib, even if your butcher is standing there knowing it all and holding a knife!

The Japones pepper really gives this dish a mildly spicy aftertaste that pleasantly lingers for just the right amount of time after each forkful. If you like a little heat to your food, the chef’s two-pepper measurement in the recipe produces a low-medium heat that I would rate about a 4-5 on a 1-to-10 heat scale, so add more according to individual taste. Look for Melissa’s Don Enrique brand of these small dried chiles wherever Melissa’s Latin line of packaged dried chile peppers are sold. However, if you cannot find them, Chef Tony suggests a seeded, small-diced, fresh jalapeno as a substitute.

Measure and prepare all of the chef’s ingredients before starting the actual cooking process, except the Sunflower Chokes as they tend to brown quickly once peeled and exposed to air. There is an initial twenty-five minute simmering of the short ribs at the beginning of this recipe, which is just enough time to turn the gnarly little tubers into smooth baby potato look-alikes without fear of any discoloration. I guess a second option would be to keep them submerged in lemon water; my fear is this will make the root a bit too watery. So just peel them in the allotted time between cooking stages; make the task a Top Chef prep race against the clock!

Hashigo has two locations offering two very different cultures and food styles. Hashigo Sushi, in Huntington Beach, serves upscale Japanese sushi; Hashigo Korean Kitchen, Costa Mesa, has an extensive menu of rustic Korean home cooking done with a modern twist. Chef Tony is kept busy as the executive chef of both venues. “We take great care to ensure that we represent these two culinary styles with as much authenticity and respect as we possibly can” explained the chef. “We are continually researching recipes to ensure that each is authentic and true to the flavors of the appropriate country; (we also) take modern spins on dishes so that we may keep our items contemporary and interesting for today's palate.” Unique, delicious food accompanied by warm, personable and informative service is, in a nutshell, what Hashigo tries to embody at both locations.

Korean Braised Short Ribs with Jerusalem Artichokes
Serves 3-4
Image of Korean Braised Short Ribs with Jerusalem Artichokes
3 lbs. flanken-style short rib (bone in weight / 1 ½ - 2 inches thick. Divide ribs into sections of three bones each
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup peanut oil
1 cup dry sake
¾ cup soy sauce
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 oz. rice vinegar
1½ qt. cold water
2 medium Perfect Sweet onions, large dice
2 medium carrots, large dice
10 cloves peeled whole garlic
1 tsp. fresh ginger, finely minced
2 dried Japones chiles
1 lbs. Jerusalem artichokes (about 10-12) peeled and turned into the shape of a small potato

1 tbsp. chives, thinly sliced
1 tsp. toasted white sesame seeds

  1. Heat the oil in a large pot over med-high heat until it is almost smoking. Lightly season the short ribs with salt and pepper and brown on all sides of the meat (about 1½ minutes per side).
  2. After the ribs are browned, take the pot off the heat and transfer the ribs to a plate and carefully discard the oil. Return the pot to the heat and deglaze the pot with sake being sure to scrape off all the fond with a wooden spoon from the bottom of the pot. Let sake reduce for about 3 minutes then add the water, soy sauce, sugar and rice vinegar. Return the browned short ribs to the pot and bring to a boil, making sure to skim off any fat and scum that may rise to the top, and then reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook for about 25 minutes.
  3. Then add Jerusalem artichokes, onions, carrots, garlic, ginger, and chiles and bring back up to a boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer and cover with a lid (or aluminum foil). Make sure there is enough liquid to cover the short ribs and Jerusalem artichokes and allow to cook for another 35-40 minutes until meat is tender but not falling off the bones; the Jerusalem artichokes should be easily pierced with a fork.
  4. Remove the pot from the heat and let the braise rest for about 10 minutes and then plate the short ribs with the Jerusalem artichokes and carrots and sauce each plate with a few tablespoons of braising liquid, garnish with chives and toasted sesame seeds and serve.
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