Thursday, January 18, 2018
Cooking

Give tender-hearted sweetie (the artichoke) a chance

Artichokes are not the most welcoming of vegetables. Armored in leathery petals and topped off with thorns, they look more like medieval weaponry than something you'd want to douse in butter and offer for dinner.

But stripped down to their tender hearts and simmered until their flesh turns velvety soft, they are a delicacy. They are beloved wherever they're grown, in Mediterranean-type climates where the winters are mild. That means California, where artichokes arrive in spring, ready to ship.

One classic method for cooking artichokes is to braise them in a mix of olive oil, garlic, chili, white wine and herbs. Here, I've taken that concept and added chicken.

With their intense character, artichokes can be hard to pair with other big personalities. But bone-in chicken pieces are amenable, and go nicely with everything else in the pan. Also, adding chicken turns a side into a meal.

This is an especially good thing when it comes to artichokes, which do require preparation before they're ready for your pot.

The first step is to declaw them, cutting off any thorns. Then trim off the toughest petals and peel the stems. Finally, the furry interior choke needs to go. I like to use a serrated spoon to attack the choke.

Be ruthless when trimming; only about a third to half of any artichoke is edible. Get rid of all the fibrous, unpleasant outer bits, leaving only the pale-hued sweet parts: the heart, the center of the stem, and the thinnest, most delicate interior leaves. Small "baby" artichokes have a higher percentage of edible flesh than larger globe artichokes. But bigger artichokes have bigger hearts.

While everything braises, the artichokes melt, the chicken turns silky and the sauce reduces into something thick, savory and perfect for swiping with bread.

The only downside to braising is that the browned chicken skin goes from crisp to soft. To restore some crunch and to add color to the artichokes, as a final step I sprinkle everything with grated Parmesan and run the whole pan under the broiler.

Golden-topped, speckled with the cheese and highly aromatic with garlic and wine, this dish turns a forbidding thistle into a welcoming dinner.

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