Harissa Chicken, Harissa Veggies, and a note on taste…

I’ll start today with ANOTHER CONFESSION: I have an “issue” with sheet pan dinners.

Sheet Pan Cooking:

 Sheet Pan Harissa Chicken with Leeks, Potatoes, and Yogurt?! It sounds too good to be true, to throw meat and vegetables on a sheet pan and into the oven, forget about it for 45 mins and then come back to a completed meal. Frankly, the concept defies some basic cooking logic- a chicken thigh and a potato will not cook at the same rate, no matter the size of the pieces of both!

When I first looked at Melissa Clark’s sheet pan Harissa Chicken recipe, I had mixed feelings. The flavor combo sounded delicious, and it pulled me in. Maybe I was wrong, maybe Clark had figured it out. The sad reality was that she didn’t- at least not for me. My chicken was cooked to the internal temp of 165 fairly quickly- well before the skin browned. At this point the potatoes, which I had cut fairly small on purpose in hopes of making the cook time work for both- were still hard, uncooked, and not browned.

Prep for Harissa Chicken
Prep for Melissa Clark’s Harissa Chicken recipe from Dinner Changing the Game. Photo by Linsey Sowa.

In an attempt to save the meal, I removed the chicken from the pan, and let the potatoes finish cooking. I later placed the chicken VERY quickly under the broiler to see if I could get any crispiness on the skin- but at the risk of overcooking it in the broiler I pulled them out quickly.

What perplexed me most were the recommendations I received for the recipe from others- who raved about the dish. Maybe the others didn’t monitor the temp of the chicken, and cooked it for the recipe’s full allotted time? This drove me to consider a bit more about food preferences. Anyone who knows me knows that once a topic piques my interest I start tumbling down the research rabbit hole- googling and reading until sometimes I cannot even remember what I started looking for in the first place.

On Taste…

When spiraling down in this manner, I tend to shy away from hard science style reading and information (I HATED science, especially biology in school). Well fine, truth is I ALWAYS shy away from anything too science like. HOWEVER- I felt like learned preference (the social science explanation for taste variation from person to person) didn’t completely fit the bill in this situation.

The two good friends of mine who recommended and raved about this recipe have VERY similar tastes to mine- we cook many of the same recipes, and find we like and dislike similar dishes based on similar reasons (texture, a certain spice, etc). So perhaps science could shed more light. I started reading a bit about how the taste receptors on our tongues work, and about some genetic factors that can cause differences in our perception of tastes.

I found an interesting and not overly intimidating science focused article if anyone else is interested in reading a bit more about the genetic and biological factors of taste, on the Smithsonian Website. But ultimately most research I did, even the real “science” driven pieces, pretty much concluded that MOST taste preferences are in fact learned, despite some biological differences in taste receptors on tongues.

So why did these two women who have eerily similar taste preferences to mine love this dish and I didn’t? The two variables left are the quality of the food items used, and cooking methods. We all followed the same recipe, so I would venture to guess the issue may have been food quality. My girlfriends don’t live close to me, but we all have good access quality ingredients.

Harissa Chicken
Harissa Chicken, recipe from Dinner Changing the Game by Melissa Clark. Photo by Linsey Sowa.

Perhaps it was the fact that I bought this chicken at a local butcher who excels with beef and pork items, but lacks a bit in poultry and seafood options? Perhaps I am the issue here (gasp, it can’t be)?! I have some learned experiences that surely have impacted my feelings regarding poultry, and I will spare you the gory details!

Perhaps my obsession with perfectly reaching 165 degrees internal temperature, and not one degree over was the culprit …the world may never know. Rather than obsessing even further- which I tend to do- I vowed to take the flavors I loved about the dish- harissa, garlic, cilantro, and parsley and make something that suited me.

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