One of my favorite dinner shortcuts is to nestle a hot roast chicken on a heap of sturdy greens like kale, baby mustard or watercress. The chicken fat coats and gently wilts the greens, infusing them with the chicken’s flavor. It’s a perfect side dish for the roasted bird that requires no extra work.
Now Sarah Copeland has taken this technique to another level with her spiced chicken legs with sweet and sour kale (above). She uses chicken leg quarters, roasting them until the fat renders and the skin crisps. All those glorious drippings are tossed with kale, olives and, intriguingly, the sweet and tangy brine from a jar of bread and butter pickles (though cider vinegar works, too). It’s a midweek sheet-pan dinner with the wow factor of a Sunday splurge.
Sheet Pan Chicken Thighs With Tangy Greens
Here’s another low-work, big-wow move: Dry-brine your salmon before cooking. Although I’ve been dry-brining Thanksgiving turkeys, chickens, steaks and chops for years, I never thought to try it with fish. But J. Kenji López-Alt went there, with mind-blowingly delicious results. The fillets release some of their liquid when salted and left to rest in the refrigerator overnight, helping the skin crisp faster and more deeply, and with a lot less mess than you’d get by searing unsalted fillets in hot oil. You may never look at salmon the same way again.
On the earthy side of culinary innovation, Sarah DiGregorio would like to change how you cook beans. She roasts her (canned and drained) white beans on a sheet pan, which encourages them to brown all over the surface. Toss in some shrimp, bacon and garlic bread and you’ve got a crisp-topped, velvety-centered one-pan meal.
For something meatless and every bit as brilliant, Hetty McKinnon brings us a protein-rich, vegan edamame pesto pasta that you can make in just a half-hour with some shelled frozen soybeans, loads of garlic and nutritional yeast for umami oompf.
And, finally, there’s Dorie Greenspan’s aptly named tall and creamy cheesecake for dessert. You’ll need to make it in advance but, like dry-brining your proteins, it’s well worth a little planning.
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Go Beyond Graham Crackers
To put a signature spin on Dorie’s cheesecake, or any recipe that calls for a graham cracker crust, try substituting crumbs from your favorite crunchy cookie. Gingersnaps, chocolate wafers, shortbread and even crisp chocolate chip cookies will all work beautifully, adding unexpected pizazz to a classic.