Some folks say that the wheel was the greatest invention ever. Others point to the printing press, the internal combustion engine or the light bulb, but I think that during the pandemic, the ordinary sheet pan changed our lives forever.
My tongue is only partially in my cheek when I say that the basic 14-by-20-by-1-inch pan has transformed my day-to-day routine. You can buy two pans for under 30 bucks. And then you can give away most of your other pots and pans, especially the large, heavy, hard-to-clean roasting pans.
Paula Zuccotti, a London-based expert on consumer behavior, attempted to document the things people turned to during the pandemic. She asked contributors from around the world to photograph their lockdown essentials.
Thousands of people sent her photos of the objects that got them through. They ranged from watercolor paints to stuffies to the usual devices, to some unusual devices, to musical instruments, garden trowels, yarn, VR headsets, paddles, running shoes, hand-tied flies, live plants and herbs of all kinds. If I knew about the project, I would have sent a photo of my sheet pan.
During Covid-19, as my husband says, if I didn’t cook it, we didn’t eat it. Meal planning and preparation was a diversion. Eventually, though, it felt burdensome to think about food even though that was all there was to keep us busy and reasonably healthy in our isolation.
Somewhere along the way I remembered the two sheet pans I’d bought. When I went online for recipes, I realized I was late to the party; apparently the sheet pan craze has been rocking for some time, and people have been using this super-easy method to cook everything from scrambled eggs to filet mignon.
Even babies are cashing in on the boom, with Mom and Dad preparing entire meals of diced chicken or meat, veggies and maybe some polenta baked on one sheet and enjoyed for a few days.
The sheet pan is really the repurposed jelly roll pan of old. But now my pans hold our entire dinner. The preparation is minimal and the cleanup is, well, one pan.
One of the best things about the ascendency of the sheet pan is that it doesn’t matter if you’re left or right, liberal or conservative, vaccinated or not. It’s possible that both Liz Cheney and Kevin McCarthy use sheet pans to cook. It’s possible that Dr. Anthony Fauci enjoys healthy meals a la sheet pan and that Mitch McConnell whips out his sheet pan to prepare a homemade meatloaf. (Nah, that probably doesn’t happen.)
One of my favorite sheet pan recipes from Epicurious:
• 3 pints grape tomatoes, halved
• ¼ cup olive oil
• 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
• 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
• 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dried oregano
• 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
• 4 pieces thin-sliced, skinless, boneless chicken breast, or 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 1 pound)
• 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 10 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced into rounds
• ½ small red onion, thinly sliced into rounds
• ½ cup peperoncini (about 3 ounces), thinly sliced
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss tomatoes, oil, vinegar, garlic, 1 tablespoon oregano and 1 teaspoon salt on an 18-by-13 rimmed baking sheet.
2. Cut chicken into slices.
3. Season chicken on all sides with pepper and remaining 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon oregano. Add chicken to tomato mixture. Roast until chicken is almost fully cooked through and tomatoes are starting to burst, 8 to 10 minutes. Arrange mozzarella rounds over chicken and tomatoes. Return to oven and roast until cheese is melted and chicken is fully cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes. Top with onion and peperoncini.
Another recipe, for baked feta cheese pasta, went viral on TikTok and turned out to be worth every bit of the hype.
When I prepare fish, I love that I can cook a piece of salmon, the asparagus, butternut squash and the roasted potatoes all in one sheet pan. If I want to separate the fish, I just put it in a little aluminum foil boat right on the sheet with the other parts of the meal. Then I lift it out when it’s done and leave the veggies in for a few more minutes.
What object helped you through this past year? I would love to hear from you. Someday there will be a museum of the pandemic. Get your entries ready.
Copyright 2021 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.