Chef’s Special: Sheet Pan Chicken Thighs with Roasted Fall Vegetables
The days are growing shorter, and it’s clear that summer is reluctantly retiring, yielding to the first scatterings of early red and gold leaves. The arrival of autumn is imminent, and with it come cooler temperatures and longer nights, chunky sweaters and sturdy boots, bonfires and football. And the copious bounty of the season, evidenced by the heavy branches at the apple orchards, the orange-dotted pumpkin fields, and the overflowing bushel baskets at the farmer’s markets.
The change in weather brings with it a primal change in the way we eat. Long gone are the delicate strawberries and new watercress of spring, and soon even summers’ ripe tomatoes and sun-kissed corn will be just a distant memory. In the fall, we crave substance. Instinctively, we welcome the warmth of plump and fragrant garlic, the comfort of filling mashed potatoes with butter, and the life-sustaining richness of gamier, and more substantial meats.
And when the temperatures drop, nothing is cozier or more convivial that inviting guests into our homes to relax with us and share a meal. Fall hosting and cooking is all about the feeling of “home.” Ease and comfort are the order of the day, so there’s no need to stress and fuss.
Drinks can (and should!) be as simple as glasses of brandy or full-bodied red wine, or warm cider with a shot of rum. Dried fruit compote with cream or a cheese board that includes quality dark chocolate, make pleasing desserts requiring no complicated preparation. And for the cornerstone, may we suggest the humble chicken thigh?
Bone-in chicken thighs are thinner than breasts, and they contain more fat. Thighs offer a sublime ratio of skin to meat, and their rich fat means that they’re easy to crisp when baking or broiling.
Too-often overlooked in North America, chicken thighs are not only juicier and more nuanced in flavor than breasts, their undeserved second-class status means they are much easier on the wallet. And when prepared simply and elegantly, they’ll impress your company with a minimum of effort on your part.
This one-pan recipe could not be easier to prepare, and it offers a veritable bouquet of flavors and textures. The sweetness of autumn apples paired with salty bacon against the nuanced, earthy flavor of the dark chicken elevates the simple elements to sophistication. The buttery softness of the roasted onions, counters the toothsomeness of the vegetables, and the crisp chicken skin balances the tender, juicy dark meat.
We have no doubt that when your guests arrive, and shrug off their jackets, the smell of the cold-weather herbs and roasting onions, along with the chicken, will put them in mind of a mini-Thanksgiving. Seated, with drinks in hand, they’ll be thinking, “There’s no place like home… except for here.”
Serves 4, Generously
The day before:
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling, as needed
1 1/2 tablespoons white wine
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, more as needed
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, more as needed
8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 3 to 3 3/4 pounds)
Rinse the chicken thighs, and pat with paper towels to dry thoroughly.
Using a fork, stir together the olive oil, wine, vinegar, garlic, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper in a very large mixing bowl.
Add the chicken thighs and toss to coat completely. Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight.
The day of:
3 large onions, peeled and sliced into medium-thick half moons
7 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 3/4-inch cubes
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, cleaned and halved
3 medium apples, cored and sliced into half moons about 3/4-inch thick (honeycrisp, pink lady or fuji work best)
4 strips bacon, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
2 tablespoons parsley, coarsely chopped, for garnish
Apple cider vinegar, for drizzling
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, drizzle the onions with 3 tablespoons of the oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss until the onions are coated but not dripping. If you need to add more oil, go ahead, and then re-toss.
Line a 13- by 18-inch rimmed baking sheet (also called a half-sheet) with parchment, if you have it or spray with non-stick spray if you do not.
Scatter the onions evenly on the baking tray.
Bake the onions on the middle rack for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring once, until fragrant and slightly translucent.
While they bake, combine the sweet potato, Brussels sprouts, and apple slices in a very large bowl, drizzle with the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil, sprinkle on salt and pepper, and toss with a large spoon to coat.
When the onions are done, remove the tray, and rest it on the stovetop. Using a spatula, clear 8 spaces by pushing aside the onions, and then arrange the chicken pieces in the cleared spaces so that each piece is surrounded by onions.
Layer the combined vegetables evenly atop the onion layer, and around the chicken pieces.
Sprinkle the bacon pieces over the vegetables, and around the chicken pieces.
Roast on the middle rack until chunky vegetables are fork-tender, and the is browned on top, and its juices run clear when pierced with a fork, about 30 to 35 minutes (temperature in the center of the chicken should exceed 165 degrees).
If the chicken needs more browning or crisping, run the sheet under a broiler for 1 to 2 minutes at the end.
Remove the chicken pieces to a large platter, and sprinkle with the parsley.
Transfer the vegetable chunks and apple slices into a large serving bowl, reserving the onions.
Spread the onions around the chicken on the platter, drizzle lightly with the vinegar, and serve the meal warm.