Sunday, April 4, 2010

Playing With My Food - Intimidating Hearts (of artichoke)

(Originally posted on Jul. 5, 2009)

So, there's a small Mom-and-Pop Italian restaurant here in town, and they have a 'house' dish that I love- their House Chicken. It is a rather uninspired name but is so good! It is a grilled (unbreaded) boneless chicken breast, on a bed of angel hair spaghetti, with a lemony sauce containing artichokes and mushrooms. It tastes a little like chicken picatta, but it does not have the capers. I decided to play around with flavors to try to reproduce it.

I had never really dealt with artichokes. I have seen them used on television cooking shows, but the preparation of fresh artichokes was a little intimidating to me. For this reason, my first attempt was without artichokes. For this first attempt, I broiled the chicken breast, basting it with butter until it was done. I then sauteed garlic in olive oil, added sliced mushrooms and sauteed them lightly. Lemon juice was added to the pan, but looking at this mixture it looked a little too dry (compared to the restaurant) and tasted very tart. I added honey to the mix and it seemed to improve the flavor. To make it more 'saucy', I added chicken broth and simmered it a little, then poured it over the chicken breast. It was just okay - just a sweet lemon sauce on chicken with mushrooms. The sauce was too sweet, and the overall effect was a little too much like candied chicken... not good.

Disappointed and determined to conquer this concept, I moved on. On my next grocery trip, I looked at the canned articoke hearts. The little picture on the label looked a lot like what had been in the restaurant dish and I had a glimmer of hope. Maybe I could make something workable without dealing with those fresh artichokes! I continued shopping and, in the frozen foods, found a bag of FROZEN artichoke hearts.

WOW!... other vegetables are usually much better frozen than canned, so I decided to get the frozen ones, instead of the canned.

For my second attempt, I used what I knew about sauces and what I had learned from Attempt #1, and made some significant changes.

First, I placed my raw chicken breast in a fry pan and only seared it. I removed it from the pan and used the same oil to sautee minced garlic. I added the frozen artichoke hearts and reduced the heat to a simmer. I added the seared chicken breast, chicken broth and mushrooms, and let the dish simmer until the chicken was done. This process let the juices of the chicken cook with the other components so the chicken got added flavor, and so did the vegetables. This was a HUGE improvement over cooking the chicken seperately, as I did in the first attempt. I was also amazed at the suble, but very noticeable difference the addition of artichokes made to the flavor.

When the chicken was done, I added just a hint of lemon juice. The sauce was not thick but it was reduced and was very flavorful. I did not add honey this time. The sauce did not need it. Again, I think cooking all the components together improved the flavors to the point that I really didn't need to tweak it. I plated the chicken, artichokes and mushrooms on a bed of angel hair pasta, drizzled the pan sauce over it all, then topped with a little shredded parmesan cheese. It was outrageously good and I fix it often, now.

What I learned - never give up on the first try; try something new and be ready to modify things to fit my comfort level.; artichokes are zesty and a little tart on their own- lemon is nice with them but don't get carried away.

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