Sheet-Pan Chicken Thighs With Potatoes, Fennel, and Mustard-Beer Sauce

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

This easy sheet-pan dinner manages to pull out all the stops, delivering tender chicken thighs with crispy skin, a potato-fennel gratin that’s in turns creamy and crispy, and a dead-simple “sheet-pan” sauce that amounts to little more than popping open a can of beer and stirring in some mustard. The secret to its success lies in its architecture: knowing just how to cut and arrange everything to get the kind of killer results most cooks would trash their kitchen with cookware and bowls to pull off.

For starters, we slice the potatoes and fennel thinly and layer them in an even scalloped design. This isn’t just for appearance’s sake—it dramatically changes how the vegetables cook. The thin slices keep the vegetables close to the sheet-pan floor, and as the chicken fat renders, it bathes them more fully than it would if they’d been cut into larger chunks. This makes the vegetables unbelievably creamy and tender while still browning and crisping them on the surface, especially after some Cheddar cheese gets grated on top and flash-cooked under the broiler.

That crispy, cheesy surface is another key point. By spreading the vegetables in such a large, even layer, you maximize surface area for browning and cheese coverage. Then, when transferred to a serving platter or plates, you can stack sections of the thin layer of scalloped vegetables on top of each other to make them more like a traditional gratin cooked in a deeper baking dish with crisp and cheesy bits hidden within.

The choice of chicken itself is key, too, since thighs and legs can handle longer cooking without drying out the way white meat does. This offers ample time for the meat to hang out in the oven as the skin browns and becomes crackling, all while the fat melts and bathes the vegetables underneath. Arranging the chicken along the edges of the pan is equally important, keeping it where the pan gets hottest so that the skin browns and crisps as much as possible while protecting the potatoes and fennel below.

We could have stopped there, but just for fun, we decided to whip up a quick “sheet-pan” sauce after the chicken and vegetables had been transferred to serving plates. All you have to do is heat the empty sheet pan over a burner to brown the remaining chicken juices and deepen their flavor; then deglaze it with a can of beer. Stir in some old-fashioned mustard and a bit of sugar to balance out the beer and mustard’s bitterness, add a couple tablespoons of butter, and it’s ready to be drizzled on top.

Published at Tue, 14 Jan 2020 10:30:57 +0000