Preserved lemons, aka lemon pickles, are a delicious and unique treat that have long delivered a ton of salty and acidic crunch to the cuisines of North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia — and to America in recent years.
You can buy lemon pickles at a specialty store (or online) or you can make some at home. But both options have their problems. Lemon pickles from the store are often left to overstay their welcome and become rancid on the shelf, while making them at home can take up to a month because that’s how much time they need to cure. Plus, you’re generally forced to make a big batch because a minimum critical mass is required to produce enough juice to cover the lemons as they cure.
This recipe offers a much quicker way to make lemon pickles. Usually, the lemons are cured whole. Here they are sliced thin, layered with salt and left to cure at room temperature for 12 to 48 hours — your choice — although the longer they cure, the softer the texture and the stronger the flavor. Once cured, there’s nothing left to do but rinse off your lemon pickles and decide which of a whole range of dishes they should glorify. You can add them as a garnish to soups, stews and roasted vegetables, chop and combine them with fresh herbs to top fish, slide them into a grilled cheese sandwich, or stir them into grain dishes.
What about those artichokes? They’re in the recipe because they play so nicely with lemons. I’ve called for frozen or canned artichokes, although you’re welcome to use fresh artichokes if you have the energy to cut them into hearts. (They’ll be delicious.) If you do roll with the canned or frozen kind, just be sure to pat the artichokes very dry and cook them in a hot pan to achieve a nice golden color.
The beauty of this recipe is that once the lemon pickles are good to go, it takes no time at all to throw everything together. And the chicken, combined with a bit of wine, creates its own natural sauce as it cooks.
Baked Chicken Thighs with Artichoke Hearts and Lemon Pickles
Start to finish: 13 hours, (40 minutes hands-on)
2 1/2 lemons, preferably thin-skinned
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
8 medium chicken thighs
One 14-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained, or one 9-ounce box defrosted frozen artichoke hearts
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, parsley or dill
Rinse the lemons well and slice them crosswise 1/4-inch thick. Arrange half of the slices in one layer (or slightly overlapping) in the bottom of a noncorrosive baking dish or pie plate and sprinkle half the salt evenly over the slices. Repeat with the remaining slices and salt, cover and leave at room temperature for at least 12 hours and up to 48 hours. Rinse the lemons and remove the seeds. Only half will be used in this recipe; keep the second half, covered, in the refrigerator for other uses. The pickles will keep for two weeks in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a large ovenproof skillet heat the 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt on the skin side, reduce the heat to medium and working in batches if necessary (if all the chicken doesn’t fit easily in the pan), cook the chicken skin side down until the skin is nicely browned. Transfer the pieces to a plate and repeat with the remaining chicken if it didn’t all fit in the pan the first time. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat left in the pan.
Pat the artichoke hearts very dry using paper towels. Add them to the skillet and cook them over medium-high heat, turning them occasionally until they are golden. Turn off the heat, return the chicken to the skillet, skin side up, and add half the pickled lemon slices. Pour the wine over the skillet and put the skillet on the middle shelf of the oven. Bake the chicken for 20 minutes or until it is just cooked through. Transfer the chicken, artichokes and lemon slices to each of eight plates and pour some of the juice from the bottom of the skillet over each portion. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve right away.
Nutrition information per serving: 248 calories; 156 calories from fat; 17 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 93 mg cholesterol; 344 mg sodium; 4 g carbohydrates; 2 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 16 g protein.
Editor’s Note: Sara Moulton is host of public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals.” She was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows including “Cooking Live.” Her latest cookbook is “HomeCooking 101.”