Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends.
Vegetables and protein are the familiar stars of a sheet-pan dinner, but adding fruit to the mix makes things much more interesting. Roasting an ingredient like pear transforms it into a more concentrated, deeply flavored version of itself. When chicken is cooked alongside, the fat renders out and infuses the fruit with a rich savoriness, complementing its concentrated sweetness and remaining hint of tartness. I’m always drawn to the coupling of sweet and savory, so this dish of pears, chicken and fennel is one of my favorite takes on a sheet-pan preparation.
Before the ingredients enter the oven, they’re tossed in a vinaigrette with tarragon, red wine vinegar, Meyer lemon and maple syrup. You can use standard lemons if necessary, but Meyers (a cross between a lemon and an orange) contribute to a more winter-suited flavor profile and pair excellently with the maple. Their wonderful floral note also creates a nice accent to the fennel, as does the tarragon, which echoes fennel’s licorice-like taste, though the fennel becomes sweeter and mellower when it’s roasted at this high temperature.
Even with a variety that stands up well to roasting, like Anjou, the pears will cook faster than the fennel. Some sheet-pan recipes might call for adding the ingredients at different times so all components are cooked evenly, but I actually like the result of varied textures. The pear gets almost saucy from being cooked with rendered chicken in a way that reminds me of confit, and the fennel remains a bit firmer, though still tender.
Any remaining rendered fat from the sheet pan goes back into the vinaigrette. There won’t be much, but it’ll be powerful. You’ll use that to dress an accompaniment of lentils and serve everything together. I opt for lentils because of the contrast of their nutty earthiness against the bright vinaigrette, but you can serve this with any grain or starch you like, or with nothing at all. Adding the lentils does make this more than a one-pan dish, but you can cook them up to two or three days in advance.
For the wine pairing, a light-bodied red with gentle tannins like Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages Flower Label 2019 from France’s Beaujolais region is a good fit. Because of its juiciness and red-fruit flavors, I prefer this Gamay slightly more chilled than a typical red. Throw a bottle in the fridge when you start cooking and it’ll be ready when you are.
Sheet-Pan Chicken with Pears, Fennel and Maple-Meyer Vinaigrette
Pair with a light-bodied red with red-fruit flavors, such as Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages Flower Label 2019 (86 points, $14).
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 50 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Approximate food costs: $30
- 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
- Black pepper
- 1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons of juice and 2 tablespoons of zest from 2 Meyer lemons, plus 1 Meyer lemon cut into wedges for serving
- 3/4 teaspoon fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 large Anjou pear (or 2 small ones), sliced into about 1-inch wedges
- 1 fennel bulb, cut lengthwise and then into about 1-inch wedges, reserving some fronds for garnish
- 2 cups black lentils, rinsed
1. Preheat oven to 425° F. Pat chicken thighs dry and season with salt and pepper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together maple syrup, red wine vinegar, Meyer lemon juice and zest, tarragon and vegetable oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Add the chicken, fennel and pears to the sheet pan. Pour about half of the vinaigrette over the top and toss the ingredients with your hands to coat, then arrange everything in as even a layer as possible. Roast until the chicken skin is golden and the internal temperature has reached 165° F, about 25 to 30 minutes.
4. In the meantime, cook the lentils: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the lentils, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 to 25 minutes until tender, then drain and transfer to a bowl.
5. When the chicken is done, the fennel and pears should have a deep color to them in some spots. (If they’re not quite as caramelized as you’d like, remove the chicken from the sheet pan and return it to the top rack of the oven for 2 to 5 minutes more.) Transfer everything to a plate, and pour any remaining liquid from the sheet pan into the rest of the vinaigrette.
6. Use that mixture to dress the lentils to your liking. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary with more salt, pepper or Meyer lemon juice. Serve the dressed lentils with the chicken, fennel and pears. If any vinaigrette remains, you can spoon it over the top. Garnish with fennel fronds and serve with extra lemon wedges on the side. Serves 3 to 4.