Sheet pan meals have become remarkably popular over the past two-three years. The concept of tossing an array of ingredients together, scattering them around in a single layer on one pan, then roasting them in a hot oven, appeals to both novice and experienced cooks. The prep time is reasonably short, and, once the food's in the oven, the hands are free to tend to other things. If the sheet pan has been lined with aluminum foil first, clean up -- uh, there is almost no cleanup.
I was late to the sheet pan dinner party, meaning, sheet-pan meals were not something I made for our family of five. That said, I'm a savvy cook, and after recently trying my hand at a few of these meals, I learned I get better results using one pan in two steps, meaning: cook the protein first, cook the vegetables second. Why? Proteins require a rest time in order to remain juicy -- they rest while the veggies roast. Why not use two pans in the same oven to save time? The surface area of two pans creates too much moisture in the air, causing food to steam instead of brown.
Tip: If you own a pizza stone, now is a great time to use it. Preheating the oven with the stone in it and placing the sheet pan of food on the hot stone promotes extra browning and carmelization.
The large surface area of one sheet pan makes quick work of feeding a family one of their favorite restaurant meals -- fajitas.
For the chicken and the marinade:
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs*
12 tablespoons achiote vegetable oil, or vegetable oil (3/4 cup)**
6 tablespoons white vinegar
6 tablespoons lime juice, fresh or lime juice not from concentrate
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano and Mexican-style chili powder
2 teaspoons each: garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper
1/2 cup minced cilantro leaves
**Note: Achiote oil, which is readily available everywhere, has annatto added to it, which is what gives it its signature pretty orange color, and, ever-so-slight hint of earthy, musty, peppery flavor. Annatto is the seed of the achiote tree, which is indigenous to Central and South America. The seeds are usually ground to a powder or steeped in oil prior to adding to all sorts of Spanish-style fare. If you don't do a lot of this type of cooking, don't buy it, or, if you don't want the orange color added to the dish you are serving, simply substitute vegetable oil without compromise.
~Step 1. In a small capacity food processor or blender, measure and place all ingredients as listed: vegetable oil, vinegar, lime juice and all of the dry spices. Mince and add the cilantro. Process or blend, until smooth and emulsified, about 15-20 seconds. Yield: 1 1/4 cups marinade.
~Step 2. Unpackage the chicken thighs and open each thigh up so it sits flat on the work surface. Using a chef's knife, slice into 1/4"-slightly-less-than 1/2" strips. Transfer to a 1-gallon food storage bag and add all marinade. Seal bag. Use your fingertips to massage the chicken until it is evenly coated in the marinade. Marinate for 1-3 hours or overnight. The longer, the better.
*Note: While boneless, skinless chicken breasts can be substituted for thighs, when it comes to making sheet-pan fajitas, experience has taught me that the bit of extra fat on dark-meat chicken thighs helps them to caramelize and keeps them from drying out in the dry high heat of the oven.
For the vegetables & the fajitas:
all of the marinated chicken strips, from above recipe
1-1 1/4 pounds 1/4"-1/2" thick sliced sweet onion, cut into half-moon shapes
5-6 ounces each: 1/4"-1/2" julienne green, red and yellow bell pepper
12-16 flour tortillas
Optional accompaniments and garnishes: refried bean or refried bean dip, Mexican rice, avocado slices or guacamole, Mexican crema or sour cream, cilantro sprigs, lime wedges
Pantastic sizzling sheet-pan fajitas in two easy steps:
~Step 1. Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with heavy duty aluminum foil. Position oven rack in the center. Place pizza stone on oven rack and preheat oven to 500°. While oven is heating, use a pair of tongs to remove chicken from marinade, placing it on a paper-towel-lined plate as you work (to absorb moisture), allowing all excess marinade to drain back into and remain in the bag. Place/scatter the chicken, in a single layer (slightly overlapping is ok), on the prepared pan. Transfer the onion and bell peppers to the ziplock bag with the remaining marinade. Seal the bag and toss the vegetables to lightly-coat and lightly-season them.
~Step 2. Place pan of chicken (on the optional pizza stone) in the hot oven to roast, until just cooked through, about 15-18 minutes*. Remove chicken from oven and use a large slotted spoon transfer to a large plate and loosely tent with aluminum foil. Dump (I hate that word, but it works) the vegetables onto the still-hot sheet pan, scatter them around, and place the pan of vegetable (on the optional pizza stone) in the hot oven to roast until crunch-tender, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven. Add the chicken to the pan and toss to combine. Tightly wrap the flour tortilla in aluminum foil and place them on the top of the pan. Return the pan to the oven to heat through, about 4-5 minutes.
*Troubleshooting for you: Know your oven and its limitations -- they are all different is this no joke. Mine gets really, really hot, which makes short work of evaporating the chicken juices. Check in on the chicken after 10-12 minutes. If for any reason it looks like the chicken is simmering in too many juices, remove it from the oven, use a few paper towels to blot/remove the excess liquid, then return the pan to the oven and continue with recipe.
Remove from oven, unwrap tortillas & serve ASAP:
Pantastic Sizzling One-Sheet-Pan Chicken Fajitas: Recipe yields 6-8 servings.
Special Equipment List: small-capacity food processor or blenders; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon food storage bag; tongs; 17 1/2 x 12 1/2" half-sheet pan; heavy-duty aluminum foil; paper towels; pizza stone (optional); large slotted spoon
Cook's Note: Undercover nacho tester. I suppose it could get boring, but, because every eatery makes this Tex-Mex pub-grub staple a bit different, I'd be willing to risk running into some repetition and heartburn. From nibbling on basic nachos consisting of deep-fried corn tortillas topped with melty cheese sauce, to digging-into nachos-grande, nachos-supreme, fully-loaded nachos or ultimate-nachos piled high with a plethora of enough savory stuff to qualify for full-meal status, yes, I think undercover nacho tester would be my dream job. Try my ~ Na-Cho Mama's Fully-Loaded Sheet-Pan Nachos ~.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)