This filling dinner has the bold, aromatic flavors of a tagine, the classic North African stew named after the clay pot in which it’s made, but comes together quickly and easily on a humble sheet pan. It’s inspired by chicken tagines I’ve made over the years from Paula Wolfert, where red onion (either grated or sliced, as it is here), dried fruit, lemon, and briny olives play prominent roles, and the sauces are always rich and redolent. Her versions aren’t particularly difficult to make, but they require a level of time and attention that I can’t seem to muster during the work week. So I came up with this reimagined sheet-pan version to deliver those same flavors and textures, but in a much lower-lift way.
The biggest challenge I faced in going from a tagine (or sturdy Dutch oven in my case, as I’ve never owned a real-deal tagine) to a sheet pan was the sauce. A fragrant sauce is a hallmark of a good tagine, and I didn’t want to forgo one that I could spoon over couscous or sop up with flatbread. The solution I landed on? Schmearing bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs generously on both sides with a simple harissa rub, which melts together with the schmaltz on the pan to build a glossy sauce; adding the vinegar-laced soaking liquid used to plump the dried apricots about halfway through the roasting time; and adding lemon juice and olive oil at the end to deglaze the sticky bits on the pan, plus bring a little oomph and brightness. The result is a rich, almost velvety sauce that comes together entirely on the sheet pan. It’s by far my favorite part of the dish, the thing that makes this simple weeknight dinner seem fancy and special in its own right.
A few notes and tips: Resist the temptation to line your sheet pan with foil or parchment; you want the sauce to have direct contact with the hot sheet pan so it reduces nicely in the oven. Also, be sure to use bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs: the fat that renders from the skin is key to creating a good pan sauce. —EmilyC
Test Kitchen Notes
It’s the end of the long workday (or the start of an extra-long week) and we’re hungry. Like, “can’t-think-straight” hungry. Luckily, Food52 contributor EmilyC wants to do all the thinking for us. In Dinner’s Ready, her twice-a-month column on weeknight wonders, Emily shares simple, flavor-packed recipes that’ll have a good meal on the table in no time. —The Editors
4 to 6
plus 1 tablespoon harissa sauce (mild or spicy)
honey, or to taste
olive oil, divided
lemon, zested and juiced
Kosher salt (Diamond Crystal) and freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 to 3 pounds
skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (6 to 8)
medium red onion, halved and sliced ½ inch thick
dried apricots, halved
red or white wine vinegar
Castelvetrano olives, with or without pits
shelled, roasted pistachios (or toasted almonds or pine nuts), coarsely chopped
coarsely chopped cilantro
Couscous or warmed flatbread, for serving
- Heat the oven to 425°F. In a small bowl, stir the harissa, honey, cumin, 1 tablespoon of the oil, and the lemon zest (about 1 teaspoon, but a little more or less is fine!). Taste for heat level, adding more honey if it’s too spicy or harissa if you want more kick. Add 2 teaspoons of the salt and a few grinds of the black pepper; stir until blended.
- Pat the chicken dry on an unlined sheet pan, then rub the harissa mixture on all sides and under the skin. Scoot the chicken to one side, then arrange the onion on the other side. Toss with 1 tablespoon of the oil, a few pinches of salt, and any harissa on the pan that didn’t stick to the chicken. Arrange the chicken skin side up across the pan, then nestle the onions around the chicken. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Roast for 20 minutes (set a timer).
- Meanwhile, in a small heatproof bowl, macerate the apricots in the boiling water and vinegar. Smash the olives with the flat side of a knife or the heel of your hand, removing the pits if present.
- When the timer goes off, remove the sheet pan from the oven and add the apricots (plus their soaking liquid) and olives, nestling them around the chicken and scraping up any charred bits with a spatula or wooden spoon and stirring them into the liquid.
- Roast for 5 to 10 minutes longer. Check the internal temperature of the chicken; the target is 165°F in the thickest parts. Roast for another 5 to 10 minutes, as needed. (Don’t worry if the temperature goes over a bit; thighs are forgiving and they’ll still be delicious.) Run the pan under the broiler for 1 to 2 minutes to crisp up the skin even more, if desired.
- Scrape up the charred bits on the pan and stir them into the schmaltz. Add 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice and 1 to 2 tablespoons of the oil (depending on the amount of rendered fat). Stir in the cilantro and pistachios. The sauce will thicken on the pan as the chicken rests. Taste, adding more salt and/or lemon juice to your liking.
- Serve the chicken and sauce directly from the sheet pan, or transfer the chicken to a platter and pour the sauce on top. Serve over couscous or with flatbread alongside.