Sheet-pan dinners are a thing. All during the pandemic, instructions for assembling them kept popping up, and there are dozens and dozens, yea, hundreds of sheet pan dinner recipes online.
They are a kind of sibling to one-pot meals. Pretty good idea, all things considered, to avoid all those pots and pans, and bowls and stuff dirtied up during normal dinner preparation. And you can do it without an actual sheet pan.
Sheet pans migrated from professional kitchens to home kitchens spurred by television cooking shows. The standard professional ones are great honking things and wouldn’t even fit in my home oven. They come in several sizes and the 12-by-17-by-1-inch pan is a pretty good size for domestic use, in case you want to add one to your cookware. Since I generally cook for two or three people, I can get away with a cookie sheet or even a large, shallow baking pan I already have. “Sheet pan” can actually be more of a style of cooking than the literal use of a large, shallow, aluminum pan.
The principle is to bake or broil your protein, vegetables and maybe even the starch, all on one pan. A bowl or jar of sauce might be lurking alongside, and the starch might be bread or grain that you have to cook separately. The protein usually leaks its lovely juice all over, and the vegetables pick it up. And it usually goes pretty quickly because many of the dinners are baked at a high heat.
All this was just theory for me, because even though I like one-pot meals, I’d never done a sheet-pan dinner until just this past week. The first one I tried was chicken thighs with a bunch of root vegetables roasted alongside. Potatoes, carrots, onion and rutabaga flanked the chicken thighs that I rubbed with herbs and spices. It took about 45 minutes at a moderate 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
The second dinner was for sheet pan chicken fajitas. You’ll find the instructions below. The starch is flour tortillas, and the extras include grated cheese, sour cream, optional lime juice and if you have some avocados, you can whip up guacamole to dump on top of each fajita. I didn’t do guacamole; avocados intimidate the dickens out of me, but if I had any, I would’ve diced them up and added them to the fajita as I assembled it on my plate.
I used about a pound of boneless chicken breasts, cut crosswise into strips about a half inch wide. I used red and green peppers that I had grown last summer, then chopped up and frozen last fall, probably equivalent to two of each fresh, seeded ones, plus two medium onions sliced lengthwise. I seasoned the vegetables and chicken with chili powder plus salt and pepper, which I added as if I was salting and peppering a serving on my plate—sprinkle, sprinkle—and I started with a tablespoon of chili powder and then added a dash of chipotle powder. Olive oil dribbled over the vegetables before putting them into the oven provided enough moisture for the vegetables to cook without scorching.
I used a bowl for tossing the vegetables and some of the seasoning together, then while that was broiling I did the same with the chicken. But if you do it on the sheet pan instead, that’s one less bowl to wash.
Any leftovers would make a speedy little snack or another meal as long as you kept tortillas around. Pile the goodies up in the tortilla, add cheese and pop it into the microwave. That’s it.
A lot of sheet pan recipes call for chicken, fish, sausage or shellfish — proteins that come, or can be cut, small and cook quickly, or which, like chicken thighs, will roast up in less than an hour. These sheet pan meals are fun. For a while, when I am thinking about fixing supper, I’m going to look around to see which ingredients I have that might go together really well and do them sheet pan style. If you give these a try, let me know your favorite combos and I’ll share them here.
Sheet Pan Chicken Fajitas
Makes six to eight fajitas
3-4 bell peppers, red, green and orange if desired
2 medium onions
1-1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
1 tablespoon chili powder, or more to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
6-8 flour tortillas, 6-inch diameter or your preference
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese
Sour cream, to taste
Remove the seeds from the peppers and slice them into strips lengthwise.
Peel the onions and slice them lengthwise, too, and add them to peppers. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and about two thirds of the chili powder and toss.
Distribute vegetables over the bottom of a baking pan, adding enough olive oil to lightly moisten them.
Set the broiler on high, and broil the vegetables for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, slice the chicken breasts or thighs into half inch strips and sprinkle with salt and pepper as above and the remaining chili powder.
Distribute the chicken on top of the vegetables and broil for another five minutes.
Warm the tortillas by wrapping in a damp towel and microwaving briefly.
Pile the vegetables and chicken into tortillas and top with sour cream if desired and a sprinkle of cheese.