My sophomore year in college, as I sat dutifully pretending to read some text on the roles of women in Enlightenment literature or some such, my roommate looked up from a small hand mirror, tweezers in hand, and proclaimed, “you know plucking my eyebrows every couple of days for years, you’d think the hairs would start to get the idea and just stop coming back.”
I thought this was a very good point. semi-animate objects should totally be able to pick up on our cues and take over for themselves after a certain amount of time. After decades of being made every ding dong morning, you’d think my bed could start making itself at this point, right? I would also very much like to see the floors mop themselves every 2 weeks. And, sometimes I would really like dinner to cook itself. Don’t get me wrong, I really do love to cook, but there are certain days when I would not at all mind seeing my supper rise to the occasion and begin cooking itself right around 6 o’clock. On Mondays, for example. That would be nice.
But, yesterday, I’m sorry to say, none of those things were happening. We had escaped town and gone into the woods for the weekend, (A sanity trip. Did you know that PhD work makes you completely insane? Like, really. There are some days – Thursdays, usually – when I think an argument for my insanity would be upheld in court. The best remedy is lots of trees and hiking. Nothing like panting right up the side of an old mountain to put things into perspective) and on our return we found that the floors had not mopped themselves, nor had dinner cooked itself.
I was chagrined. And, no amount of reciting incantations from children’s movies about magical bed knobs seemed to rouse the mop or oven to begin doing their jobs, even in the slightest. Which left me with the one option that a person usually is left with in these types of situations, namely an attitude adjustment.
I’m amazed at how much time and effort it takes to not feel like doing something that you have to do. Whereas, just diving in and doing it frequently winds up causing very little anguish at all (it’s very Yoda, “do or do not, there is no try…”). I wish I remembered this more often. Just grabbing the mop and scrubbing the floors wound up taking all of 20 minutes and was kind of fun. And for dinner, I made chicken legs because let’s face it, they kind of do cook themselves.
Unlike their plain-Jane relative, boneless skinless chicken breasts, which require all manner of shenanigans to make them interesting, bone-in, skin-on chicken legs are pretty much always easy to make tasty. They’re like the person you never worry about taking with you to a party because even though they aren’t flashy, they know how to make good, non-mortifying conversation with whomever they wind up sitting next to.
This particular iteration of chicken legs was inspired by a dish I had seen once that looked almost like gratineed chicken, in that it was covered with cheese and breadcrumbs, but it also had artichoke quarters scattered about it. For these, you brown your chicken legs well to lock in the flavor, then make a pan sauce of white wine and chicken broth with a refreshing squeeze of lemon. You dump the sauce and several jars of marinated artichoke hearts over the chicken legs in a baking dish and then generously cover it all with a blanket of Parmesan and breadcrumbs. Into the oven it goes and you don’t have to think about it until it is done braising 45 minutes later.
Simmering in the juices leaves the chicken moist and tender, with a crisp cheesy skin, and creates a pool of delicious gravy around it. The meat and sauce are punctuated by the distinctive tang of the fluttery artichokes.
And, you may discover that the breadcrumbs and cheese that landed in the sauce rather than on the chicken will have thickened it luxuriously, sort of like a bread soup, which will make you feel quite clever, even though you hadn’t really planned on this happening at all. You can use some crusty bread or a rice pilaf to catch and eat all the extra sauce you don’t put on your chicken. Or you can just completely douse all your vegetables with it and feel very happy about it. So much so that you may even find yourself volunteering to cook dinner tomorrow instead of trying to convince it to cook itself again.
Chicken with artichokes and wine sauce (Serves 4)
- 4 chicken legs (thighs and drumsticks) with skin on
- a bit of butter or olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 2 (7 oz.) jars/cans of marinated artichoke hearts, drained and cut into quarters
- 1 tsp. minced garlic
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- zest and juice of half a lemon
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- Preheat your oven to 375F. Pat your chicken pieces dry with a paper towel, then generously salt and pepper them. Heat a bit of butter or olive oil in a large frying pan. Put the chicken in skin side down and cook on high several minutes, until nicely browned. Flip and cook until the other side is brown, a few more minutes. Then, transfer the chicken legs to an oven pan that fits all of them with a bit of space in between each leg.
- Turn the heat on the frying pan down to medium and stir in the garlic. Cook one minute, then add the wine, stock, lemon zest, and juice and stir, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Let this bubble for about 2-3 minutes. (If desired at this point you could stir in a dollop of sour cream, which I think would be nice, but I didn’t do so and it was still fabulous.)
- In the meantime, scatter the artichoke pieces over the chicken. Then, pour the sauce from the pan all over the chicken pieces. Then sprinkle the Parmesan cheese and finally the breadcrumbs all over the top of the chicken and the sauce. Put it into the oven and bake for 45 minutes. While you are waiting you can have a glass of the white wine that you opened to use in the sauce, and maybe mop the floors or something.
- Serve warm from the oven accompanied by a salad and some veggies, and some rice or bread if you wish.