A Springtime Grill: Lemony Chicken and Baby Artichokes

A Springtime Grill: Lemony Chicken and Baby Artichokes

How early in the year do you kick off grilling season? Right now, I’m waiting to see when my husband, Gary, will clean off our grill from last year, which needs a serious scrub. And I’m really hoping he will be the one to do it. I’m peppering our conversations with incentivizing words like “grilled pizza” and “grilled burgers” and “grilled steaks,” waiting for him to realize that only when the grill is sparkling can these things be his.

And once the grill is ready to roll, I think grilled lemony chicken with baby artichokes will be the kick-off meal of the season. I made this first on the stovetop, using a grill pan. We all loved it, thought it was great, but on the grill it takes on that whole other quality you can only get with outdoor live fire cooking. Gary said it was one of the best chicken dishes I’ve ever made, and I make a lot of chicken.

A Springtime Treat

The chicken shares a tangy, citrusy marinade with a few handfuls of baby artichokes, something you may not have experimented with before.

European baby artichokes are artichokes that have been harvested before growing to maturity, but in the United States, baby artichokes are in fact fully mature vegetables that grow on the same plant as larger globe artichokes. They just sprout lower down on the plant, and because they are shaded by the upper artichokes, their growth is inhibited.  

The flavor of baby artichokes is similar to that of mature artichokes, maybe a bit milder, but the nice part is that you can eat the whole thing, leaves and all. You could use the pared down and cleaned hearts of larger globe artichokes, but since baby artichokes are such a treat of a spring vegetable, try and use them.

Just a Trim

Artichokes may seem like they are going to take a lot of effort, but just commit to 15 minutes of prep time, all the while anticipating how delicious this dinner will be. I actually like throwing myself into certain mundane kitchen tasks—peeling the bottoms of asparagus stalks, shelling shrimp, trimming artichokes. Sometimes it’s nice to lose yourself in something undemanding and rhythmic and slightly Zen.

The bottoms and pointed tops of baby artichokes need to be trimmed, and you should remove the tougher outer leaves. It may pain you to lose a few layers, but anything that isn’t tender won’t be fun to eat, so keep going until you get to the softer, very pale green leaves. If the leaves seem tender enough, but still have sharp tips, trim the tips with scissors. You could add the trimmed bits to a vegetable stock; just know that the artichoke flavor will definitely come through.

If the baby artichokes are very small, they won’t have any choke (inner bristly leaves), and you can leave them alone after trimming the outer leaves and stem, even leaving them whole. But if they are on the larger side, you will want to cut them in half. If you do see any spiky leaves in the middle, use a small spoon to scoop them out.

Thinking Ahead

As soon as you finish trimming the artichokes, you’ll want to get them into liquid that has something acidic in it, like lemon juice, to prevent browning. This is true of larger mature artichokes as well. Before you start paring them down, make sure you have a bowl of acidulated water nearby so that you can drop the pruned artichokes right in. If you wait, you’ll see how quickly they start to brown (which by the way, won’t affect the taste, so don’t make yourself crazy about it).

In the case of this recipe, though, the artichokes will go straight into a marinade that has a generous dose of lemon in it, which will conveniently prevent them from browning. The chicken pieces go in as well, and then the whole thing marinates for a minimum of six hours to absorb all of those great flavors.  

What the Kids Can Do

If you want to get your kids involved, you can let smaller children pull off the outer leaves (though this sometimes takes a bit of tensile strength), and older kids who can handle a sharp knife might be able to trim the artichokes, with supervision. Kids of a range of ages can help juice lemons, drain capers, and mix up the marinade.

To Serve

Once it all hits the grill, you’re really just about 10 to 12 minutes until dinner, so make sure you have rice and any side dishes ready to go. You can plate this up individually; it also really looks wonderful piled over rice on a large serving platter, with an optional sprinkle of parsley. 

Another nice way to serve this is over a pile of dressed greens. Reserve two tablespoons of the marinade—before it comes into contact with the raw chicken—to use as a dressing. While the food is grilling, combine about six cups of mixed spring greens with the reserved dressing in a large bowl. Distribute the dressed greens on a serving platter, or individual plates, and arrange the grilled chicken and artichokes over the top.

(Or maybe pair it with a quinoa and greens salad, or a vegetable and brown rice salad.)

If you are looking to please vegetarians, you can keep the artichokes and the chicken separate both during the marinating process and the cooking process (just divide the marinade in half). In that case, you’ll also want to double the number of baby artichokes, if they will be the center of anyone’s meal. This recipe can be easily scaled.

Grilled Lemony Chicken and Baby Artichokes

Serves 4

  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (see Note)
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 3 lemons)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup minced shallots
  • 1/4 cup capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce, or to taste
  • Kosher or coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 8 to 10 baby artichokes
  • 3 cups hot cooked rice to serve
  • Minced parsley (optional)

Cut each chicken thigh in two or three pieces, about 2 x 3 inches each, and trim off any excess fat.  

In a large container or zip-top bag, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, shallots, capers, Sriracha, and salt and pepper.  

Trim the bottoms and pointy tops off the artichoke hearts, and remove any tough outer leaves. Cut each artichoke in half lengthwise. If the artichokes have some bristly leaves in the middle, remove them with a small spoon. As you prepare each artichoke, make sure it goes right into the marinade to prevent browning, and that the cut side of the artichokes in particular is submerged in the marinade.

Add the chicken pieces to the marinade, making sure the marinade coats all of the ingredients. Place in the fridge and marinate for six to 12 hours, turning the bag so that the marinade redistributes itself over the chicken and artichokes once or twice if you can.

Heat the grill to medium-high, and make sure the grates are very clean. Grill the chicken and the artichokes for about five minutes on each side, until nicely browned and cooked through; a knife should easily slide through the artichokes. Move them to indirect heat for a few extra minutes if the outside is browning but the inside isn’t tender enough. Discard the used marinade.

Distribute the rice on a serving platter, or individual plates, and arrange the grilled chicken and artichokes over the top. Sprinkle with parsley if desired.

Note: If you prefer chicken breasts over thighs, go for it, keeping in mind that they may cook slightly faster.  

Katie Workman is a food writer and recipe developer in New York City. She writes the popular blog TheMom100.com, contributes to many publications, and has written two cookbooks: “The Mom 100 Cookbook” and “Dinner Solved!”

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