Every July, I question my sour cherry priorities. Their season is so short, and the fruit so scarce that I rarely get around to making anything beyond one big, gushy pie and a year’s supply of homemade maraschino cherries (must-haves in my manhattan cocktail).
But maybe, I always think, this is the summer I’ll try something new. Then the urge passes, and I never do.
Last year, though, sour cherry season lingered a little longer than usual in the Northeast, so I was able to squeeze one more recipe into the lineup. I considered jam, a cordial, even meatballs before settling on sheet-pan chicken.
Of the approximately one gazillion sheet-pan chicken variations I’ve cooked, sour cherries never made it into the mix. But I knew that their tangy juices would work well with the chicken fat sizzling at the bottom of the pan.
To accentuate the cherries’ sweet-and-sour character, I simmered them briefly with rice vinegar, sugar and a bay leaf. Then I spooned them over a pan full of boneless, skinless chicken thighs and red onion wedges.
As it all roasted, the smell of caramelized fruit and browned-edged chicken filled the kitchen, making me want to stay close enough to breathe it all in. I took advantage by throwing together an ad hoc sauce from thick Greek yogurt, slivered cucumber and more of that sweetened vinegar-bay leaf solution I’d used for the cherries. Dolloped on the chicken, it was a cooling, creamy counterpart to the roasted thighs, zippy cherries and soft strands of red onion.
My family ate it with a torn-up baguette to catch all the drippings, and we all agreed: It was a marvelous summer meal — even at the expense of a batch of cherry jam.
I was so taken with this dish that I tried to create something similar after sour cherry season had passed. I tried red and green grapes, then sweet cherries, then cherry tomatoes. All were good. But none matched the intense sweet-tart character of the sour cherries. (Note that I did not try this dish with thawed frozen sour cherries. I didn’t have any.)
This year, as sour cherry season approached once again, I worried I’d have to choose between pie, cocktails and my new favorite sheet-pan dinner.
Luckily, the market yielded enough cherries for me to make them all.