f all the fancy kitchen equipment in my prodigious collection – the copper gratin dishes, the pressurized siphon, the multifunctional immersion blender – it’s the humble sheet pans I reach for most often.
You know which pan I mean: the wide, flat staple of the restaurant kitchen.
But it’s more than a staple. It’s a workhorse. And for home cooks, it offers one of the most low-tech, convenient, inexpensive solutions to that age-old kitchen conundrum: What’s the quickest and easiest way to get a fresh, entirely homemade dinner on the table? If you have sheet pans, then you can make a supremely tasty supper for your family (protein, starch, green vegetable) in the oven all at once, with a minimum of prep and very little cleanup.
Please tell me you have at least one of these professional-grade, heavy-duty pans. Or to be accurate, that you have a half-sheet pan, which, measuring 18 by 13 inches, is the best option for home ovens. (Full sheets are sized for commercial ovens and are too unwieldy for home use.)
If you don’t have one, go out and buy a couple immediately. You can get a good one for less than $20. If you have one, get another. And if you like to feed a crowd, consider three. I’m the proud owner of four, and I use them constantly, for everything from spring asparagus to summer eggplant, to starchy fall and winter root vegetables, not to mention every kind of fish, meat and fowl. You can vary the ingredients and seasonings, ensuring that you and your family will never get bored.
I first discovered sheet pans while I was working in a professional kitchen, which had what seemed like hundreds of them, in various states of battery and abuse ranging from gently scratched to nearly black. They were used for nearly everything: roasting meats, dehydrating apple slices, baking shortcakes, even carting ramekins of spiced custard from one side of the prep kitchen to the other.
At home I had a jelly roll pan, which is shaped like a half-sheet pan but much smaller and flimsier and not well suited to high heat. (I tried it. It warped.)
I also had flat cookie sheets, which are not the same thing as sheet pans, although some people confuse the two. Cookie sheets do not have rims, and so the hot air is able to circulate easily around the flat disks of dough. But cookie sheets are not so good for roasting myriad small objects, which fall off when you give them a stir.
And I had a roasting pan, with taller sides. While it has its place for turkeys and big hunks of meat, it’s not as good for roasting smaller things (fingerling potatoes, a half-dozen chicken drumsticks), because the sides inhibit browning.
I had no other pan as convenient and useful as a half-sheet.
In those days, I had to go to a restaurant supply store to source my first half-sheet pan, which was followed by siblings; now they are widely available at kitchen stores and online. I recently acquired quarter-sheet pans, ideal for roasting small things (say, a halved dumpling squash).
The trick to making a whole sheet-pan supper at once is in the timing. Start with the slowest cooking ingredient: a thick pair of bone-in pork chops, for example, or whole baking potatoes. Then add items to the oven in a progression, ending with whatever cooks the most quickly.
In winter, I often begin with dense root vegetables: potatoes, celeriac, rutabagas, turnips, parsnips or even radishes. I cut them up and spread them out on a sheet pan tossed with olive oil and herbs, spices or both. Give the pieces plenty of room; the more room between them, the better the browning. Put the pan into the oven and roast until they are golden brown.
The exact oven temperature doesn’t matter, but my default is 425 degrees. A little higher gets things browner, but you have to watch more carefully. A little lower gives you more wiggle room.
While the roots are roasting, I’ll move on to the oiling and seasoning of the protein: chicken parts, lamb chops, sausages, shrimp, salmon steaks, pork tenderloin, firm tofu – you get the drift. The protein can go onto another pan or on the same pan as your root vegetables, depending on the amounts. Put it into the oven when the vegetables are about halfway done, more or less. Bear in mind that tofu and fish cook more quickly, so add those to the oven later than you might add bone-in chicken.
Finally, I’ll cut up, oil and season a green vegetable (broccoli, kale, green beans, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, chunks of cabbage and the like). Spread everything out to roast on yet another pan and add that to the oven 10 to 20 minutes before your protein and roots are done.
Everything will come out of the oven at the same time and give you a chance to set the table while it all finishes. At the end you’ll be left with minimal cleanup. There will be no stovetop splatter and hardly any prep bowls (you can season everything in the pans). You’ll just have the sheet pans to wash, and they can go straight into the dishwasher, unlike many a skillet.
This particular recipe is not exactly quick, but it couldn’t be easier.
The sweet potatoes go into the oven first, with thyme flavoring their velvety flesh. Next I add chicken legs (thighs or drumsticks or a combination) coated in garlicky mustard butter and bread crumbs for the maximum crunch. When those are almost done, I add a pan full of broccoli rabe. Make sure to trim your rabe well, lopping off any tough, fibrous stems that may resist softening in the oven’s heat.
This is a meal that my whole family enjoys. That includes Dahlia, my 5-year-old, who likes to nibble on the broccoli rabe leaves, which crisp as they roast. And even better: It arrives at the table without fuss.
Sheet Pan Supper
Time: 1f hours
Yield: 4 servings
1a pounds sweet potatoes (2 medium potatoes)
2 teaspoons chopped thyme leaves, plus a small bunch of thyme sprigs
f cup whole-grain mustard
4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs or drumsticks (or a mixture), patted dry
2f teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
d cup plain dried bread crumbs
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
1 pound broccoli rabe, trimmed
Pinch red pepper flakes
s cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
1. Prepare the sweet potatoes: Heat oven to 425 degrees. Cut the potatoes into 1-inch-thick slices. Reassemble the slices so they look like intact potatoes. Insert a sprig of thyme between each of the slices. Wrap each potato in 2 layers of foil and place on a pie tin or directly on oven rack (seam side up). Bake until very tender, 60 to 75 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, make the mustard butter for the chicken: In a small bowl, combine the whole-grain mustard and chopped thyme leaves. Mince 2 garlic cloves and stir into the bowl. Take out 1 tablespoon of the mixture; reserve. Add butter and Dijon to remaining mixture in bowl and stir to combine.
3. Prepare the chicken: Season chicken with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Rub mustard butter all over chicken. Place breadcrumbs into a wide, shallow bowl. Coat the chicken evenly with breadcrumbs. Transfer to a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.
4. Once the sweet potatoes have baked for a half-hour, add the pan with chicken to the oven and bake until chicken is golden and no longer pink, 35 to 40 minutes.
5. As the chicken cooks, prepare the broccoli rabe: Toss rabe with olive oil, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and the red pepper flakes. Smash remaining 2 garlic cloves and toss into rabe. Spread onto another sheet pan. Add to the oven with potatoes and chicken for the last 10 minutes of cooking time. The broccoli rabe is done when the stems are tender and the leaves are crisp at the edges. (The chicken, sweet potatoes and broccoli rabe should all come out of the oven at more or less the same time.)
6. To serve, combine the reserved 1 tablespoon of mustard mixture with sour cream or yogurt in a small bowl. Serve chicken with broccoli rabe and sweet potatoes on the side, dolloping the potatoes with the sour cream-mustard sauce.