Sheet Pan Chicken, by Cathy Erway
This book was very worthwhile but not in the way that the author intends or that I necessarily would have preferred. When I am reading a cookbook like this one, my preference is to read about fun recipes of chicken that I can try or add to my own repertoire of dishes. This book did not have as much of this as I expected or wanted. What it did offer was something unexpected, and that is a look into the reasons why hipster cuisine and I tend to have such issues. The author is self-professedly a hipster author, someone who tries to sound cooler than she is by using slang that was outdated when I was growing up, and someone who borrows plenty of recipes from other authors. If one could not tell the author was interested in hipster cuisine by her love of kale and the fact that she turns a lot of dishes into far more fussy versions of what they could be, she expressly states that her interest in providing recipes is not to be true to any particular traditional foodways but rather to express the way that she thinks various cuisines should be. And judging from her fondness of pork products, her preferences and mine are far apart, and she has little to offer with regards to recipes.
This book is a relatively short one at just over 100 pages, divided into three chapters. The book begins with an attempt at a humorous introduction including how to choose one’s sheet pan and chicken as well as a discussion on chicken parts that are right for various recipes and spices. The first chapter looks at various chicken dishes that can be cooked on the fly, including spatchcook chicken, crispy chicken, chicken with various sauces and other side items, chicken salads, chicken clam bakes, various ethnic dishes, and the like. The second dish consists of recipes that take longer to cook and that the author considers to be worth the wait. These include dry-brined whole chicken, chicken rolls, pan chicken with cornell sauce (as opposed to regular bbq sauce), tumeric chicken, “deconstructed chicken-eggplant parm,” which does not sound particularly appealing, I must admit, and other such dishes. The third chapter then looks at various dishes that serve as suitable sidekicks to chicken, including quinoa, fried rice with ham and peas, tomato salad, garlicky smashed cucumbers, and kitchen sink chimichurri. The book then ends with acknowledgements and an index.
This is not to say that one could not turn these recipes into better ones by obeying biblical food laws and the like. To do so, of course, would be to understand and want food in a different way than the author provides. Rarely is an author as honest as this one is in being uninterested in traditional cooking and most interesting in feeling creative in ways where creativity is not necessarily going to be wanted or appreciated. This is not even in my top 5 best chicken cookbooks that I have ever read, although I have to say that the theme of this book is one that ought to be appealing, since I enjoy cooking on sheet pans and what it offers. This is not an entirely misconceived book. In better hands this could have been a very good book and if someone else with better taste in food wrote a book on this same subject I would read it happily. Yet if I did not exactly like this book or wish to eat or cook many of its recipes, I can say at the very least that the author did show me why it is that she and other writers like her are not ones I happen to enjoy. And if that is not the highest pleasure, it is worth at least something to know why one does not like something and to have it openly explained.