Turn Chicken Fingers Into a Sheet Pan Meal (& Take 2 Shortcuts)

January 24, 2018

I’m a late-comer to the sheet pan dinner party. As a technique-driven cook, I prefer methods customized to each ingredient. At the same time, I’m a recipe writer who prides herself on dish efficiency because, to be honest, I’d rather do anything besides the dishes. And sheet pans let you do everything in the oven while creating exactly one dirty pan to handwash.

These family-friendly baked chicken fingers have long been in my dinner rotation, and they use a cheat I adopted from an out-of-print children’s cookbook. In place of the standard three-part breading process, the chicken breast brines in yogurt before it gets a nice coat of panko. A hot sheet pan slicked with oil produces a very moist and tasty baked chicken “tender” with less time and no stovetop splatters.

Mind you, no baked chicken fingers turn out as crackling crisp as pan-fried, but a liberal hand with the oil makes a big difference. A higher oven heat also promotes browning on the already-hot sheet pan. Be sure to use a sturdy sheet pan, since a lightweight type will warp at 450° F.

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Turning this entrée into a sheet pan dinner meal simply involved introducing two of my favorite roasted sides: crispy sweet potato rounds and just-charred stalks of broccolini. As with most sheet pan dinners, there’s some choreography involved. Here, the sweet potatoes and broccolini get prepped and go into the oven while you brine and bread the chicken. Then, the broccolini gets swapped out for the chicken, since it takes about half the time of the sweet potato rounds.

Those sweet potatoes had some help getting ready so fast. Photo by Julia Gartland

Sweet potatoes contain a lot of moisture and take a while to brown, so I microwave them first (another cheat), then slice and smash them so that they crisp up like home fries. For the best browning, choose the sweet potato variety with beige skin and cream-colored flesh instead of the orange variety. As it all bakes, whisk together a simple honey and lemon juice sauce, spiced to your liking. Use it as a dipping sauce for the chicken. Or, drizzle it liberally all over the chicken and sweet potatoes before serving.

In all, you get a complete happy meal in less than 30 minutes of oven time. As a late-adopter of sheet pan dinners, I’m not ready to shoe it in it for any weeknight supper simply to save on a few dishes. But with complementary ingredients and a little sheet pan management, this technique is the right one to get a crowd-pleasing dinner on the table, no sweat.

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I wake up thinking, What's for dinner? The answer comes from the stocking as much local food as I can store, buying dry goods in bulk and shopping for seasonal produce. Pickling and canning, sourdough bread baking and grilling are also key parts of the mix as I improvise meals for my family.

1 Comment

MsJoanie January 26, 2018
I know this will sound lame but could you post some photos of your sheet pan arrangement. You explain it fairly well in the recipe descriptions but I'm a visual person... and I know the crowding or lack thereof is always critical to sheet pan cooking.