The night before, search the freezer for the family pack of bone-in, skin-on chicken breast you bought when they were on sale a few weeks ago. My family pack is just three pieces, a rare thing when so many family things are designed for more. It is hard to imagine feeding a bigger family right now. Feeding, educating, emotionally supporting, trying to keep other people alive; these are all tricky things at any time, but especially now. On his poetry assignment today, the child described “the smells of home” as “cat litter and meat.” It’s fine. I’m fine.
Defrost the chicken in the fridge overnight. This recipe will accommodate four bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts.
In the morning, possibly dreadfully early, open up a large freezer bag. If it is so early that you haven’t had your coffee and are clumsy, open the bag into mixing bowl so that it doesn’t topple over and spill raw chicken mess onto your counter later. Open a can of chickpeas, ideally one that is around 540mL or 19 ounces. Drain them into a colander, then rinse them. Dump them into the freezer bag.
Finely chop a Roma or plum tomato, and toss it into the bag too. Chop a red bell pepper into bite-size pieces; we are not looking for elegant slivers of pepper, or even a uniform dice; you need pieces that will hold up in the oven. Are you serving more than three people, and do you have more peppers? That’s fine, use more. You can use another colour of pepper if you want to, or if that’s all you have; I think red looks nicest so that’s what we always have.
Boil some water. Crumble a few strands of saffron into a small dish. Now is the time to use the spices in your cupboard, especially if they are from other places and absolutely not here. If you’re like me, pretending you’re someplace else is an essential coping strategy. Steep the saffron in one to two tablespoons of boiling water for a few minutes, until the water has turned a vibrant yellow and cooled.
In a bowl, add 1/4-cup of olive oil, the zest and juice of one lemon, three minced garlic cloves, one tablespoon of smoked paprika, two teaspoons of salt, one teaspoon of ground black pepper, half a teaspoon of ground cumin, half a teaspoon of ground coriander, and all of the saffron extract you just made. Whisk it all together and give it a quick taste. Does it need more of anything? Add that.
Pour the contents of the bowl into your freezer bag and squish everything around so that everything gets coated and takes on a rusty hue. Squeeze as much air out of the bag as you can, and then seal the bag. Flatten it out as much as you can, put it onto a baking sheet, and shove it in the fridge so that you can spend many hours on Zoom meetings while a child hollers in the background about how hard math is. Like you don’t know. Remember to mute your microphone or your coworkers will hear the open weeping of a child who is not allowed to play Minecraft until after he finishes his Earth Day assignment which was due on Earth Day.
Wonder what everyone else on the Zoom call is trying to hide. Trust that everyone is doing their best to pretend this isn’t chaos. We have items to action, and deliverables to deliver. Anyone working from home is a marketer now, and many of us are keeping our professional brands in tact while our cats barf on the living room floor out of frame.
The chicken can be in the fridge all day, and it will be. But when it is time start thinking about dinner, take everything out of the fridge. Squish the bag again, so that the seasonings move around a bit. The bag should sit on the counter for 30 minutes, but if it ends up being an hour that’s okay. Dinner will cook better if it starts closer to room temperature.
Preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C). Spray or otherwise lightly grease your sheet pan. Open the bag and dump everything out on the sheet pan. Using your hands or tongs, position the chicken bone-side down, and so that the bottom is touching the metal of the pan. Push the chickpeas and peppers around the chicken, and try to keep everything in a single layer.
Bake for 40 to 50 minutes. I like to rotate my pan once in the middle of cooking for even browning.
Serve with whatever you have. I have a lot of cucumbers at all times, and there was another tomato leftover. We had herbs wilting. We always have green onions. I made tahdig, because I have rice and time.
If this all seems very daunting, don’t do it. I post a lot of pictures on Instagram of what we’re eating because meals are milestones in my days, and thinking about what I am going to eat next gives my life a necessary structure. I like to cook, and our apartment is small and the kitchen is a place where I can be close to alone for 30 or 40 minutes at a time. We are living through unusual circumstances, and you are not obligated to do anything extra right now. But if a complete dinner on a single pan appeals, this one is pretty easy, and easy to adapt.