Monday, December 16, 2019

“Sheet Pan” Chicken with Spiced Carrots & Cauliflower

I have had a class called “Quick Weeknight Meals for the Holidays” in my rotation for several years now.  All but one of the recipes has appeared here on my blog.  The one recipe that hasn’t is a simple roast chicken with spiced cauliflower and carrots.  This year I converted the recipe to the popular “sheet pan dinner” model.  I was so pleased with the result…and a technique I discovered during the conversion process…that I thought I would share it here.

Sheet pan roasting recipes are successful because the sheet pan provides a wide surface area for a large quantity of food—creating an environment conducive to the caramelization that is the prize of the roasting process.  Crowded pans with high sides make it so the foods are more likely to steam than roast since the moisture produced by the cooking process can’t escape as efficiently. 

There are of course pitfalls inherent in the sheet pan roasting method too.  If the food is spread too sparsely it can burn (or dry out) before it is cooked through.  Also, you still have to consider the properties of the individual items in terms of cooking time—you can’t just throw everything on at once (which would most likely produce a pan filled with a mixture of cooked, under-cooked and over-cooked foods).  But if a sheet pan is filled so the ingredients are just snug…and items that take less time to cook are added at a later point in the roasting process than those that take longer…you can produce a simple, relatively quick and delicious meal using the method.

When I decided to alter my recipe to the sheet pan model I took some time to look around a bit to see how other cooks and chefs have approached the method.  In the process I came across a great trick at Food52:  Placing the chicken skin side down on a preheated sheet pan and letting it roast for 10 to 15 minutes before flipping it over and adding the vegetables.  

This guarantees crisp and well rendered skin.  It also makes it so that the final dish isn’t oily or greasy because you can use some of the chicken fat released during those first few minutes of cooking to coat the vegetables.  You will still need some olive oil…but not as much.  If you have ever tossed chicken with vegetables and olive oil and then put them in the oven to roast, only to discover everything is swimming in fat at the end, you will understand the advantage of this method….

This particular sheet pan chicken recipe is very simple and straightforward.  It’s just the chicken, carrots, cauliflower, spices and lemon juice (which is a not-to-be-missed finishing touch—it really lifts the flavors).  The carrots and cauliflower are cut to a size that insures that they cook through and are nicely caramelized in the 25 to 30 minutes or so that the chicken needs to finish roasting after its initial stint in the oven (you might need to stick the vegetables back in the oven for five minutes after the chicken is done—but since all meats taste better if they are given a brief rest before serving, this is not a problem).  To obtain a good result, make sure you cut the vegetables the size specified in the directions.  If they are too large, they won’t cook through (and they’ll probably burn before they are tender since the oven temp is fairly high).  If they are too small they will cook to mush before they are caramelized

In general you can improvise your own sheet pan dinners for chicken…pork…fish…etc. if you have a good idea of how long your chosen protein will need to cook…and if you have a good understanding of how to roast vegetables (how size, oven temperature, etc. affect the process).  If you aren’t as familiar with the process of roasting vegetables as you would like to be, check out the basics post I wrote several years ago.

I like to serve this as a “one dish” meal with steamed rice or couscous.  If you are trying to avoid starch, an alternative presentation would be to turn it into a big salad.  Omit the cilantro and toss some arugula with lemon juice, olive oil and salt and mound on a plate.  Then, top with the chicken and vegetables.  A scattering of toasted pistachios would add some delicious crunch.  Either way you decide to serve it, you will have a fast…nutritious…and delicious meal—perfect for this busiest time of year.    

Chicken Roasted with Spiced Carrots & Cauliflower

4 chicken leg quarters or 6 thighs (about 2 1/2 lbs. total weight)
salt & pepper
3 T. olive oil, divided
1 1/2 t. (slightly mounded) ground coriander…or more to taste
1 t. (slightly mounded) ground cumin…or more to taste
1 to 1 1/4 lb. carrots, peeled and cut on the diagonal into pieces about 2-to 2 1/2-inches long and 1/2-inch thick
1 to 1 1/4 lb. (trimmed weight) cauliflower, cut into large (1 1/2- to 2-inches) florets
1 to 2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Roughly chopped cilantro, optional

Preheat the oven to 450°.  When the oven is hot, place a half sheet pan (18- by 12- by 1-inch baking sheet) in the oven for five minutes to warm up). 

Season the chicken with salt & pepper and sprinkle with some coriander and cumin, if you like.  Toss with a tablespoon of olive oil. Take the hot sheet pan out of the oven and place the chicken on the pan, skin side down.  Return the pan to the oven and roast for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the vegetables in a large bowl with 2 T. olive oil (use less if the chicken is releasing a lot of fat), the spices and salt & pepper to taste.  Toss to lightly coat with the oil and seasonings.  Remove the pan from the oven, turn the chicken over (use a pancake turner style spatula to carefully release the skin if it is sticking).  The skin should be beginning to crisp nicely.  Arrange the vegetables evenly around the chicken pieces, stirring a bit to coat them a bit in the rendered chicken fat.   Return the pan to the oven. 

After another 15 minutes, give the pan a shake…using the spatula to flip the vegetables over if they are sticking or browning unevenly.  Everything in the pan should be sizzling nicely.  If this isn’t happening, increase the oven temperature to 475°.  If the chicken and vegetables are burning or the fat is smoking, reduce the temperature a bit. 

Return the pan to the oven and continue to roast until the juices run clear or the thigh meat registers 175° to 180° on an instant thermometer—another 10 to 15 minutes.

When the chicken is done, remove to a plate and let rest. If the vegetables aren’t browned to your liking, return them to the oven for another 5 minutes or so.  Drizzle the finished vegetables with a tablespoon of lemon juice.  Carefully scrape the bottom of the pan (so you won’t tear up the vegetables) with a flat wooden spoon to release the caramelized bits and fold these into the vegetables.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

Serve immediately with rice or couscous, scattering some cilantro over all, if you like.  Serves 4 to 6.

(Recipe adapted from Everyday Food, March 2006)


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