Need a New Chicken Recipe? Cathy Erway Has 50.

November 20, 2020
Photo by Lizzie Munro

In the introduction to Sheet Pan Chicken—which, you should know, is titled "Why the Chicken Crossed the Sheet Pan" (!)—cookbook author, podcast host, and award-winning food writer Cathy Erway argues that the sheet pan, unlike, say, a George Foreman Grill or Instant Pot, is not a fleeting trend. It's "eternal," she writes. Indeed, this simple, sturdy kitchen staple is the start of countless dinners, from lamb meatballs and pork chops to sweet potatoes and mac and cheese. But this book, as you might've already guessed from its title, focuses on one humble protein that, perhaps, you think you're tired of. You don't have to be. In this collection, which came out in September, Erway shares 50 crispy, saucy, savory, wake-you-up chicken recipes—most of which I sticky-noted as soon as I picked up the book, and three of which are excerpted below. But first, let's hear from the author.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

EMMA LAPERRUQUE: I love the specificity of this cookbook. Can you tell me more about how you landed on this concept?

CATHY ERWAY: Thanks! I love the tight focus of single-subject cookbooks, and this theme really appealed to me when the editors of TASTE approached me with the idea for Sheet Pan Chicken. As a contributor for TASTE, I’ve written about chicken and home cooking a lot, so they thought that this would be a great project for me to do, and I was thrilled that they asked. I think that the concept of Sheet Pan Chicken marries this popular, practical home cooking trend—putting all your ingredients on a sheet pan and letting them roast in the oven together—with a protein that’s beloved around the globe, and happens to be one of the best things to roast in the oven.

EL: Compared to other methods, like searing or poaching or grilling, what is it about roasting that makes chicken so good?

CE: Everything has its place, right? I love poaching chicken or fish. And of course, grilling gives you that unmistakable char you’re not going to get elsewhere (and it’s fun!). For me, one of the biggest pluses of roasting chicken is economy with your time and efforts, thanks to the efficiency of a lot of the cooking process being hands-off. But then you have dry heat that gradually evaporates the moisture out of your ingredients as they cook, concentrating their flavors and crisping their surfaces. So chicken skin becomes this crispy chip as opposed to a gelatinous layer like you get with stewing—and I like stewed chicken skin! But it’s just a different outcome and it’s just as easy, in my opinion.

EL: So many of the recipes start with an oven at 425°F or 450°F—why is this high heat important?

CE: Yup. More often than not, 450°F was where the Maillard magic was at for a skin-on, bone-in piece of chicken, as well as chunks of dense vegetables like squash or cauliflower. I think that this has increased over the years for a couple reasons, one being that we as a culture tend to prefer more darkly browned and crispy ingredients. The other is that I think most commercially available chicken in the U.S. today is not quite what it used to be, and not what you might find in other parts of the world...they’re very young birds, so they’re very tender. So unlike with a turkey or maybe a heritage-breed or just older bird, which might need a more slow-and-low roast to really make tender, you can just sort of blast it with really high heat in an oven until it’s just cooked, and before it overcooks or dries out.

EL: What are a few recipes that you knew you'd include as soon as you took on this project?

CE: I just couldn’t stop coming up with ideas, it was so fun. I immediately knew I wanted to do a paprika chicken, or chicken paprikash, on a sheet pan because I love this dish and just thought it might work well. (Paprika-rubbed chicken roasted with sliced onions and peppers? Yes, please!) I knew that I wanted to do some version of my mother’s soy-sauce-marinated chicken, and I also wanted to do chicken with Cornell sauce, which is this regional upstate New York recipe that my father’s family makes whenever grilling chicken. I wanted to do a clam bake on a sheet pan with chicken dusted with Old Bay. And something involving Dijon and bacon and oh-so-French things, like lots of slivered onions, button mushrooms, and cream, which became a sort of riff on a chicken moutarde stew. And so on, and so on.

EL: And what about a few recipes that you stumbled upon in your research?

CE: Recipe research came in the form of reaching out to food writers whose work I love and seeing if they would like to lend a recipe to the collection. So through that, I got to learn about Oaxacan oregano roast chicken with an insanely tasty rub with garlic and fresh oregano that you’ll find at small restaurants throughout the region, thanks to Pati Jinich’s recipe. I learned about red palm oil from Yewande Komolafe’s recipe, and I love this ingredient—I’m so glad that she included it. I learned about tinola, a chicken and papaya stew from the Philippines that Jenn de la Vega decided to make her sheet pan riff based on. I learned about Persian jujeh (or joojeh) kabob that Louisa Shafia based her recipe on. And so on. I was delighted to find that many of them took a similar approach to what I was doing with many recipes—which was retooling a dish that wasn’t originally cooked in a sheet pan for the sheet pan.

EL: Can you tell me more about this collaboration with other recipe developers, and how that shaped the book?

CE: I was really pleased how, in the end, it approached the feel of a community cookbook. Although there are only eight recipes that are actually from contributors—the rest of the 42 recipes were developed by me. But amongst those, I shouted out three more cookbook authors whose work inspired a recipe—so for instance, there’s a recipe for Vietnamese-Style Stuffed Tomatoes in the book that I attributed to Andrea Nguyen for inspiration, because she introduced me to this stuffed tomatoes dish in her cookbook Vietnamese Food Any Day—although it was stuffed with ground pork, not chicken! So that was my adaptation, amongst a few other tweaks to make it sheet pan friendly.

EL: Okay, lightning round: What's your go-to chicken part for a weeknight? How many sheet pans are in your kitchen? And what's another fall cookbook that you're diving into right now?

CE: 1) Wings. 2) Four half-sheet pans plus two smaller, jelly-roll-sized ones. 3) Xi’an Famous Foods! And so many others. But that is literally right in front of me and its cover image of a messy tangle of noodles is so gorgeous!

Must-Make Recipes From 'Sheet Pan Chicken'

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.