Sheet pans might be the most versatile vessel in the culinary arsenal, at least for me. Not many kitchen hours pass when I’m not using one because I press sheet pans into service for things beyond baking. As trays, they corral ingredients when I’m prepping recipes. When frying (which I’ve been doing a lot of lately), I cover a small sheet pan with paper towels and an upturned wire rack for a draining station. And on a weekly basis I’ll use an aluminum sheet pan for freezing. Yes freezing. More about that coming up.
I have an excessively large collection of rimmed and flat sheet pans. My inventory doubled when I was preparing the recipes to be photographed for Ivy Manning’s cookbook, Crackers & Dips. (Her recipes are amazing and flawless, by the way.) At the time I thought it was the most sheet pan intensive project possible. Then when it came time to develop recipes for my own cookbook, Chips, I found I needed even MORE sheet pans! I combed thrift stores and estate sales until I had about a dozen to handle the multitude of recipes and variations to be tested.
Sheet Pan Facts
Did you know there’s a sheet pan standard? A full sheet pan is 26″ x 18″, which makes them largely restaurant equipment too big for standard ovens. A half-sheet pan is 18 x 13″—it’s the one everyone uses. And a quarter sheet pan is 13″ x 9½” which is a really handy size.
Freezing a slab of bacon in its original shingle style state makes it impossible to peel off individual slices for BLTs or that spur of the moment breakfast-for-dinner inspiration. • Fancy bagging, call it OSX Bacon Edition.
Sheet Pan Meals
Have you been following the spotlight on sheet pan cookery lately? I first heard about it in the New York Times food section (I say those 12 words a lot) where Melissa Clark laid out the process for high temperature roasting a whole meal on sheet pans. The typical line up includes a root vegetable, a protein, and a green veg, each added according to cooking time so everything finishes at the same time. All the magazines ran with the sheet pan dinner concept last winter—it’s especially comforting to crank the oven to 450° on a cold evening. And now, just in time for this winter’s comfort cravings, there’s a delicious cookbook on the subject out in December—Sheet Pan Suppers by Molly Gilbert. I’ve preordered my copy.
It’s nice to have individual chicken wings to toss into soups and stews. All that cartilage makes broths rich and velvety. Good in beans too. • Olives freeze really well so buy the more economical large cans. I always have whole or sliced olives on hand.
Sheet Pan Freezing
Most times, last minute inspiration tells me what to cook for dinner. This limits my options to quick access ingredients, particularly things I can snatch from the freezer and thaw in minutes. So I’ve come up with a way to freeze food so it can be dispatched from freezer to stove in minutes—no microwaving necessary. My trick is to freeze food on sheet pans, arranged so there’s no overlap, then store the independent portions in bags or containers. All I have to do is pluck out what I need for a meal. I’ve stopped freezing impregnable bricks of food which has improved my track record for using up what I buy before it turns south, quality-wise. No more hacking away at protein ice blocks with a Chinese cleaver to free dinner sized portions. I cooly pick my portions out of a bag and plop them into hot water. Almost everything can be thawed and ready to cook in less than 10 minutes.
Large containers of roasted red peppers are almost always the same price as small jars, but that’s too much for one pizza or omelet. So flatten the leftovers and freeze them individually. They slice really nicely when frozen. • My sheet pan straddles my ice maker and a stack of containers. It’s lined up with the vent for quick freezing.
CHICKEN • All parts are good. Wings thaw in minutes, so do individual thighs and legs. Leg-thigh quarters won’t slow you down much thawed in hot water, working the joints from time to time. Even half chickens work. Frozen as flat as possible, they thaw in 20 minutes if you change the hot water a couple of times.
SHRIMP • They get the sheet pan freezing gold star! Dividing a shrimp brick always ends up breaking some, and nothing’s more disappointing than broken shrimp. Freezing shrimp separately (they can touch a little) yields a bag of ready-and-waiting delectables for impromptu appetizers or adding love to a bowl of ramen. They thaw in warm (not hot) water in about 15 minutes.
BURGERS • All forms of burgers—beef, lamb, salmon—should be frozen individually. I used to freeze them stacked, with a piece of parchment between each, in hopes of easy separation. That never really worked. There’d always be some screw driver action to separate them. Now my burgers are free agents to be plucked from the freezer and straight onto the grill. Bonus: ⅓ pound beef patties are perfect portions for spaghetti sauces and chili.
Frozen portions of food shouldn’t stand in the wings for long. Logistically speaking, the pieces really can’t be wrapped up tightly and covered in foil. They’re pretty much exposed on all sides to air and they’re drying out. Food like this, earmarked for convenience, needs to move quickly in and out of the freezer. So see that those leg quarters don’t linger longer than a couple of months.
Crab and salmon cakes can be moist and messy. Lining the sheet pan with parchment paper makes them come off easily. For extra protection in the freezer, wrap the used parchment around the patties before bagging them, which is what I would have done here had I been thinking.