Nigella Lawson’s Genius Sheet-Pan Chicken Is As Unfussy (and Delicious) As Promised

April 11, 2018

Nigella Lawson—domestic goddess and champion of home cooks—has for years been a supporter of the laziest form of sheet pan dinner, or traybake, a British term that used to be reserved for sweets, till the quick-dinner revolution got ahold of it. “When I'm frazzled,” she once wrote. “I firmly believe that the traybake is the safest way to go.”

In Lawson’s uncomplicated style, all the ingredients pile onto the sheet tray together—no taking turns in the pan, or adding in carefully-timed succession. While there’s nothing wrong with these more advanced methods in the name of a good meal and fewer dishes, they may not be what you had in mind when you set your brain to autopilot just after googling “sheet pan dinner."

And now, in her brand-new cookbook At My Table, Lawson tackles the traybake in an even juicier way, while still keeping the endeavor hands-off. She piles up a good bed for her chicken thighs, then mostly leaves them to commingle in the oven. The chicken thighs end up juicy within and crisp up top; the bed a deliciously schmaltzed-up, well-melded—and not burnt—spring vegetable medley, ready to be dished up over smashed baby potatoes or grains or all on its own.

None of this luxurious convenience is by accident—here’s how she got there:

1) The peas. The most influential ingredient here is frozen peas—quite a lot of them, still completely frozen. She tosses them, or rather “clatters" them, onto the pan in a thick layer with leeks, fresh dill, dry vermouth, and some basics like olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. As she explains, “The steam they produce as they bake makes the chicken beautifully tender, its skin crackly and crisp on top.”

2) Yes, the very, very cooked peas. Frozen peas technically only need a few hot seconds to cook, and these braise for much longer. But part of the genius of this dish is in revisiting our expectations for peas, which “become soft and sweet in the heat—duller in color, but so much more vibrant in flavor,” Lawson writes. Unlike the clean, sweet green of merely warmed petit pois, these have more in common with French bottled peas, as she says, their flavor slowly developing and mingling with the other parties in the pan.

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Top Comment:
“Great flavours on the day you cook it and the leftovers, with chicken shredded, are great tossed through pasta. ”

3) The leeks. In suitably lazy fashion, the leeks are chunked up quite large, which means they melt inside and any exposed surfaces caramelize in the oven. At your mid-bake check-in, you’ll poke any exposed peas under the juices so they don’t go too crinkly and dry, but the leeks are deliberately left out to singe.

4) The pan. The one important bit of technique to get your chicken cooked right is simply a matter of size: The pan needs to be big enough so that the thighs have a little breathing room to not crowd and steam one another. I found my jellyroll pan to be perfect, but you could go bigger.

5) The dill. You'll save some of the fronds to tear over the top, for a spritz of freshness and brighter color to layer on top of the sleepy peas. If you don’t like dill, that's okay—just use the herbs you like.

Like this recipe, the rest of At My Table is a proud ode to the creativity, resourcefulness, and glorious anarchy of home cooking. Lawson intentionally buys chicken breasts with the skin on even when she doesn’t need it, so that she can crisp it up in a pan to sprinkle over iceberg lettuce, then recommends saving the rendered chicken fat for toast.

She saves the starchy, garlicky cooking water from making garlic mash for an instantly flavorful pea soup. (Then turns any leftover mash into savory waffles.) She also calls cranberries cheek-squeaky and one meal rather a fandango. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Start with the traybake. Then proceed to the fandango.

Photos by Bobbi Lin

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]—thank you to Nicholas Teodoro for this one!

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Jacqui R. July 4, 2018
I tried this and it was extremely greasy from the chicken fat
Anne May 11, 2018
We were really under-whelmed by this. The chicken just tasted boring and although crispy, was quite dry. The peas were nice looked long and slow like this, like Petit Pois à La Française, but the leeks were - just leeks! And the dill didn't seem to really complement any of these ingredients, tarragon may be a better choice. OK for an easy kids supper, but we found taste-wise it was pretty dull. Sorry!
debkok April 25, 2018
How do I adjust the cooking time if using bone in chicken breasts? Or boneless chicken breasts?
FrugalCat April 14, 2018
I made it with frozen corn kernels, onion and scallion instead of leeks, and extra garlic. It came out great- the corn was soft but held its shape. Will make again.
mizerychik April 24, 2018
That sounds great. I was wondering if I could substitute another frozen vegetable since I'm allergic to peas.
Author Comment
Kristen M. April 12, 2018
Thanks Ellen—we're looking into the print button issues. Thank you for your patience!
Ellen F. April 12, 2018
I was finally able to get it by searching from the home page, although clicking the "print" icon in the recipe resulted in the same error message. Thanks for trying to help
Author Comment
Kristen M. April 12, 2018
OK Ellen, we believe these issues are fixed—but let us know if you're still running into trouble.
Ellen F. April 12, 2018
Hmm, I'm still getting a screen that says "Oh dear, something's gone wrong in the kitchen"
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Kristen M. April 12, 2018
Ellen—oh no! The link on the "go to recipe" button above seems to be working for me, but sometimes internet browsers behave differently. Is that where you were clicking? Anyway, here's the link and I hope it works for you!
Ellen F. April 12, 2018
The link to the recipe doesn’t work! Please help
[email protected] April 11, 2018
This is such a fab recipe - definitely the one that I've made most from Simple. Great flavours on the day you cook it and the leftovers, with chicken shredded, are great tossed through pasta.
Virginia April 13, 2018
Just wondered if you actually cooked the chicken + other ingredients at 400 degrees for the 75 min. total that the directions specify. Also, did you use the full 2 teaspoons of salt? The recipe sounds quite good, though I do have those two questions. Thanks for any response I may get!