Sheet pan dinners are the new mealtime darlings these days, and it’s easy to see why. The chosen protein and vegetable sides all get chummy on the same dish as they bake together. And in about a half-hour, dinner’s ready. No extra bowls or pans to wash.
For weeks I tended to avoid tray bake meals. I’d read recipes, give them some thought, then reject them. Why? I’m not sure exactly. Was it snobbery? I don’t think so. I think it was because I couldn’t quite see how the different foods would all be ready to eat at the same time. That’s really the main thing to keep in mind when creating a sheet pan meal.
Here are some specifics to keep in mind for planning your own tray bake creations. Don’t even think of cooking shrimp that way. Even fish fillets are tricky because they need to bake at a low temperature, around 275 degrees, for 25 to 30 minutes. That temperature’s too low for firm-textured vegetables.
Chicken thighs work really well because their flesh is dense and fairly fatty and will cook completely and relatively quickly in a hot oven. And you don’t have to turn them over while they’re cooking. But be careful with boneless chicken breasts. They’ll work, but you’ll need to add them to the tray after the vegetables have been in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. And who wants to do that?
The vegetables in a tray bake need to be non-watery. Supermarket mushrooms ooze too much liquid. Cherry tomatoes, popular in some tray bake recipes, are also not a good choice for the same reason. These vegetables will create pools of unwanted liquid.
The best vegetables for sheet pan dinners are the firmest: Green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, butternut squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts are all excellent. Kale, de-ribbed and leaves torn into largish pieces, will also cook up nicely.
Experiment! And have fun.
Sheet Pan Chicken Dinner with Roasted Brussels sprouts and Carrots
For the best flavor, marinate the chicken overnight. Or marinate for 6 to 8 hours during the day. If you don’t have smoked paprika, sweet paprika will work just fine. You don’t need to do anything to the chicken except cut away any large pieces of fat.
1 cup buttermilk
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 garlic cloves, put through a garlic press or finely minced
6 large skinless and boneless chicken thighs (1 3/4 to 2 pounds)
6 large carrots, rainbow if available (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 pound Brussels sprouts
Salt and pepper
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil (reserve remainder for the carrots and Brussels sprouts), coriander, cayenne, turmeric, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and garlic. Add the chicken thighs and submerge them in the marinade. Cover tightly and refrigerate, preferably overnight.
2. The next day, peel the carrots and trim off the root ends. Cut the carrots into unevenly shaped chunks the Chinese roll-cut way. For the first cut, set the knife blade at a 45-degree angle about 1 1/2 inches in from the root end and make your cut. Roll the carrot towards you about a half turn and make a second cut at a 45-degree angle about 1 1/2 inches from the first cut. Continue down the length of the carrot. Repeat with the other carrots. Before you know it the job is done.
3. For the Brussels sprouts, trim off the ends — not too much or the leaves will come off. If the sprouts are small, say no larger than 1 inch, you can leave them whole. Otherwise cut them in half through the stem end.
4. About 1 hour before you’re ready to cook, take the bowl with the chicken out of the fridge and let stand at room temperature. Line a large rimmed baking sheet (17-by-11-inch) with foil. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees with a rack in the center position.
5. Put the carrots on the foil, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the remaining olive oil. Toss carrots around to coat with the oil and spread them out over one-fourth of the foil. Repeat with the Brussels sprouts so that the vegetables occupy one-half the length of the sheet pan.
6. Remove the chicken one piece at a time from the marinade and arrange the thighs — with their original skin sides up — down the length of the empty section of foil. Save the marinade!
7. Put the sheet pan in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the vegetables are browned in spots and the chicken is cooked through. While the dish cooks, transfer the marinade to a small (1-quart) saucepan and bring to a low boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently, and remove from the heat. Serve the chicken and vegetables on heated dinner plates, and spoon the marinade onto the chicken.
8. Any leftovers? Serve with cooked pasta, preferably the wide pappardelle or tagliatelle.
Greg Patent is a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author for “Baking in America,” a food journalist, blogger, and radio co-host for “The Food Guys” on Montana Public Radio. Please visit his blog, www.thebakingwizard.com, and follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
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