If you are a teacher or a parent, backto-school season can mean a ramped-up schedule with less time to cook. If you’re a college student in your ﬁrst apartment or dorm room, you might be cooking for yourself for the ﬁrst time. And no matter who you are, the pandemic means you’re probably cooking at home more than you used to.
Luckily, in this coming season of shorter, busier days, we’ve got sheetpan meals to fall back on.
In restaurants, the sheet pan is the workhorse of the kitchen. This heavyduty, aluminum pan can be used as a serving tray, baking pan, roasting pan, cooling tray (when a rack is set inside it), liner for thawing meats – and pan of choice for quick meals. (Similar meals are called tray bakes in Britain.)
The half-sheet pan measures about 13by-18 inches and has a 1-inch rim around it. It’s what most of us use at home because it ﬁts easily into a home oven. It is similar to a jelly-roll pan, which is smaller at 10-by-15 inches, and might be called a “cookie sheet with sides” in older recipes.
I use sheet pans as a base for smaller pans, especially when baking. I load mine with loaf pans when I bake banana bread or coffee cakes, or place a pie pan on it to catch any drippings. It makes it easier to take things in and out of the oven. And it is invaluable for roasting meats, ﬁsh and vegetables.
WROTE THE BOOK
When Workman Publishing came out with the cookbook “Sheet Pan Suppers” in 2014, I thought how smart it was that they captured what restaurants do when they make “family meal” for their employees. Why not institute the same principle for the home cook?
I can imagine that the technique was created by a line cook short on time but tasked with making the “family meal” while doing other prep. He or she seasoned protein and vegetables, tossed them on a sheet pan and put it in a medium-high oven to roast. The result was a quick and easy, healthy and satisfying meal.
In the six years since that book was published, sheet-pan meals have become more and more popular.
It is easy to duplicate this technique at home. In a small space like a dorm room or studio apartment, you can use one of the new counter-top air fryer/convection toaster ovens. Some, like the Ninja Foodi Digital Air Fry Oven, come with trays and baskets that promote caramelization and crispy edges. Because they are smaller than an oven, they do the same job in less time and double as a toaster.
Building a sheet-pan dinner is easy. Pick a protein, add one or two kinds of vegetables and/or a starch. If you want a quick-cooking vegetable, add it at the end while the protein is resting. I’ve done that with the green peas in my sheet-pan version of Chicago’s Chicken Vesuvio.