We all could use a little dinner inspiration — even Ali Slagle, who dreams of dinner. In “Dinner Is Served,” she asks colleagues about one night when they somehow transformed ingredients into dinner with all this life going on.
This month’s installment: Sohla El-Waylly’s about to teach you everything you didn’t know about cooking, arm you with a ton of sweet and savory recipes, and help you tackle that dish you’ve never been able to nail. For me, it was pie — I was the recipe tester on Sohla’s debut cookbook, Start Here, which publishes October 31. In addition to her book baby, Sohla also birthed a human baby in August, so her and her husband Ham’s cooking has changed drastically but is still full of tricks that will make us all better cooks.
As you know, we have a small human that just recently joined us. She’s 21 days old today so our cooking has changed a lot. It’s gotten more streamlined. One meal that we’ve had already, like, three times in the last three weeks is a really simple sheet pan roast chicken dinner.
Even though we are sleep-deprived and we have a tiny baby, we still do not eat chicken without dry brining it. It does require a little bit of planning, but weeknight dinners can still be really good and not boring when you make certain things part of your routine, like processing stuff as soon as you get it: washing all your veggies right away, washing all your herbs, dry brining your proteins. It really only takes an hour when you get your groceries and it makes the whole week so much smoother.
Fresh Direct delivers our favorite whole chicken…oh my gosh, what’s the name of it? I’m just looking at my last order. Snowdance! It’s great because it’s kind of like a heritage breed but some of those heritage breeds are too chicken-y. Snowdance’s chicken is a really nice chicken that tastes like chicken and isn’t too big.
As soon as we get the chicken, we take it out of the package and pat it dry. We don’t bother with spatchcocking anymore — that feels like an unnecessary step. Just sprinkle it evenly with kosher salt. You need a little bit more than you think you’re going to need because it’s going to penetrate all the way. We don’t put spices or even pepper on it. Then pop the chicken on a wire rack set in a sheet tray in the bottom part of your fridge. And yeah, let it sit at least 24 hours or up to 36. When we’re ready to eat, at the bottom of the sheet pan we’ll put whatever vegetables we have…anything but potatoes.
I don’t like to put potatoes under the chicken because depending on the type of potato and how big it is and how you cut it, sometimes it doesn’t cook through. All the other veggies are a bit more forgiving. I prefer things like carrots and turnips and greens because if a carrot is a little crunchy that’s ideal and if broccoli gets a little overcooked, it still tastes good.
We had this two nights ago and it was just a bunch of mustard greens, which melted down and were delicious. I always get those baby carrots because I think I’m going to be one of those girls that have them as a snack but I eat crackers instead. But just open up that bag of carrots and throw them on the sheet tray and they get really delicious and jammy under the chicken. If we have a little bit of broth or stock, we’ll throw that at the bottom with the veggies. Or even just water is good. But our secret weapon is we always have bone broth in the freezer because it just makes everything taste better.
Put a wire rack on top of the vegetables and plop the chicken on it and roast at 375 degrees. I don’t like to put the chicken directly on top of the veggies because then the bottom of the chicken doesn’t render. Oh my gosh, this is getting complicated, isn’t it?
Then we boil potatoes — little gold creamers or Yukon golds — in salted water; crack them open; top them with butter, salt, and pepper; and have them with our veggies and our chicken. It’s a really nice meal for us that’s very low effort. This is like the easiest meal we’ll make.
Ali Slagle is a recipe developer, stylist, and — most important of all — home cook. She’s a frequent contributor to the New York Times and Washington Post, and her cookbook is called I Dream of Dinner (So You Don’t Have To): Low-Effort, High-Reward Recipes.
Daniela Jordan-Villaveces is a creative director and illustrator. She was born in Bogotá, Colombia, and raised between Colombia, the Netherlands, and the U.S. She currently lives in sunny Los Angeles with her husband, their son, Lou, two kittens, and a pup.