By Melissa Clark, The New York Times
Nothing says “everything is going to be all right” like a roast chicken dinner.
To me, a juicy, crisp-skinned bird is more comforting than mac and cheese or even chicken soup, and a lot more satisfying, especially when I get to devour the glistening, burnished tail.
But when there’s no room in the freezer for a whole chicken, chicken parts are an excellent substitute. Here, they’re roasted on a sheet pan with whole garlic cloves, cherry tomatoes and pancetta (or bacon, or whatever other fatty pork product you have).
The thighs are my choice for sheet-pan roasting because they’re extremely flavorful and highly forgiving. If you overdo it, they’ll stay nice and moist, giving you some leeway if you need to cook the other elements on the pan a little longer until it’s all golden. You can use either bone-in or boneless thighs, but boneless takes up less valuable storage space. Chicken breasts, either bone-in or boneless, will also work here, just cook them for a few minutes less.
Another advantage of boneless thighs is that they are thin and don’t need to be seasoned ahead of time the way thicker cuts do. Just smear them with aromatics and spices — in this case, a mix of grated garlic, paprika, cumin, oregano and lemon — and they’ll be ready to go.
Adding a handful of whole garlic cloves to the pan is one of my standard poultry maneuvers. The garlic practically confits in all the melting chicken fat, becoming soft, creamy and practically candied. I like to smush the slack cloves on slices of sourdough, where they spread like pungent butter.
Comparing those velvety garlic cloves to butter made me want to throw some cherry tomatoes into the chicken pan: When roasted, the tomatoes shrivel, condense and turn jammy. Together, with the bread, they felt like a spin on butter and jam, appropriate for the dinner table.
Because it’s April and my tomatoes are more tangy than sweet, I tossed in a little brown sugar to help balance their acid. But if you’ve got perfectly ripe cherry tomatoes, you could leave the sugar out.
You could also skip the pork if you don’t have — or want to use — either pancetta or bacon. The dish will be slightly less brawny, but, with the golden chicken bathed in caramelized tomatoes and garlic, it’ll still be just as tasty.
And to Drink …
With, say, a summer pasta dish made with cooked cherry tomatoes, I would choose a crisp white wine. But with this dish, in which the natural flavors of the tomatoes are intensified by roasting, I would instead opt for a light red with plenty of acidity. That often means a red from Italy: barberas from the Langhe region of northwestern Italy, easygoing Chiantis — not expensive riservas or gran seleziones — and maybe even Montepulcianos d’Abruzzo if they are not too tannic. If you are dead-set on a white, I would also let acidity be my guide. Many Italian whites would do the trick, whether Gavi, verdicchio or a vermentino from Liguria. — Eric Asimov
Recipe: Sheet-Pan Chicken With Jammy Tomatoes and Pancetta
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 45 minutes
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
- 9 whole unpeeled garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more for serving
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar (optional)
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes (preferably different colors), halved
- 2 ounces diced pancetta or bacon
- 1/4 cup torn fresh dill, parsley or other herbs, for serving
- Freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Season chicken all over with salt, and place on a rimmed baking sheet.
2. Smash all the garlic cloves with the side of a knife and peel them. Finely grate one garlic clove and put it in a small bowl. Stir in the 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice, paprika, oregano, brown sugar (if using) and cumin. Pour over chicken, tossing to coat.
3. Add tomatoes and remaining smashed, peeled garlic cloves to baking sheet, spreading them out around the chicken. Season tomatoes lightly with salt and drizzle with a little more olive oil. Scatter pancetta on top.
4. Roast until chicken is golden and cooked through, about 30 to 35 minutes. After 15 minutes, stir the tomatoes and pancetta, but don’t disturb the chicken.
5. Transfer chicken to plates. Stir the tomatoes and pancetta around in the pan, scraping up all the delicious browned bits from the bottom and sides, and stir in the herbs and black pepper to taste. Taste and add salt, if needed, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, if you like. Spoon tomatoes, garlic and pancetta over the chicken to serve.