We’ve all, at some time or other, experienced inklings of tenderness toward an inanimate kitchen object. Sometimes these “relationships” are the stuff of romance novels—all-consuming, unsustainable, porn-tastic indiscretions followed by dramatic and unconscious uncouplings. Other times they’re long, meandering courtships that sadly tend to settle into disappointment. Or they’re innocent crushes whose impracticality quickly render the situation impossible. But on rare occasion, an actual romance will transpire, one in which we not only learn to understand the other’s occasional inadequacies, but choose to look past them out of affection for the everyday loveliness they bring to life. We suspect that the devotion Molly Gilbert expresses in the cookbook Sheet Pan Suppers is the latter sort of love. Actually, after reading the below excerpt from the book, we think we’re starting to feel pangs of this very same sort of amour.—Renee Schettler Rossi
I love a good one-pot meal. Really, who doesn’t? Maximum ease, minimal cleanup, and boom—dinner. But beyond soup, chili, stew, and braises, the one-pot meal quickly loses its legs. It’s pretty much all soupy stuff, all the time. And do you really want to eat Dad’s “famous” chili again?
I want the simplicity and ease of a one-pot meal, but I want more. I want the flexibility to get creative. I want an elegant, satisfying, complete meal. And most of all, I want amazing, intense flavor.
Enter the sheet pan.
Why a sheet pan? Good question—one that was never addressed in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Which means I had to figure it out on my own. Sheet pans combine pure ease—easy prep, easy process, easy cleanup) and interesting, sophisticated flavor. Try rack of lamb and buttered carrots. All on one pan. No mess. No fuss. Boom. Dinner.
Also known as a “rimmed baking sheet,” the sheet pan is one seriously underrated kitchen tool. Sheet pans are usually made out of stainless steel, and in a professional kitchen can be as large as 26 by 18 inches, or approximately enormous. For us home cooks, the more readily available 18-by-13-inch variety (professionally called a “half-sheet”) does perfectly well. Though you can buy sheet pans that have nonstick coating, I prefer to use ones made from stainless steel since nonstick surfaces often don’t hold up to daily wear and tear, and can erode with time, potentially contaminating your food. If you’re concerned about food sticking to the pan—particularly an issue with lean meats, fruit, and baked things—you can line your sheet pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
“Sheet pan cooking” means roasting, baking, and broiling, a trio of methods that concentrate and intensify flavor. That’s just science talking, not me. If you, too, start to tune out when science starts to talk, take courage—it’s actually pretty simple. The shallow sides of a sheet pan allow your oven’s dry, even heat to fully surround that chicken breast (or potatoes or cherry tomatoes) and draw out its natural sugars, producing a crisp brown exterior and an amazingly tender and juicy interior. So you get succulent chicken, crisp potatoes, and tomatoes that taste like candy, all by tossing a few things on a pan and then simply shutting your oven door. Constant stirring? Nope. Chance of hot oil jumping up and viciously splattering your wall, stovetop, or shirt? No, thanks. Browning meat in batches? Who’s got time for that when there are guests to entertain, kids to play with, episodes of the latest cable drama to binge-watch?
Editor’s Note: For a bunch of recipes that embrace the sheet pan—and that you can literally embrace (and trust us, you’ll want to hug these recipes)— buy the book from which the above text is excerpted. Just click on the book cover above. Or if you can’t wait that long and need a quick fix, take a gander at our best sheet pan suppers recipes. Then let us know your tried and true sheet pan strategies in a comment below. Got a photo of your banged up but beloved sheet pan? Share it with us.