Every July, I question my sour cherry priorities. Their season is so short and the fruit so scarce that I rarely manage to make anything more than a big squirting pie and a year’s supply of homemade maraschino cherries (my manhattan cocktail staples).
But maybe, I always think, it’s this summer that I’ll try something new. Then the urge passes, and I never do.
Last year, however, sour cherry season lingered a bit longer than usual in the northeast, so I was able to add one more recipe to the lineup. I considered jam, a cordial, even meatballs before settling on slab chicken.
Of the nearly a billion sheet pan chicken variations I’ve cooked, sour cherries have never been part of the mix. But I knew their tangy juices would work well with the sizzling chicken fat at the bottom of the pan.
To accentuate the sweet and sour character of the cherries, I simmered them briefly with rice vinegar, sugar and a bay leaf. Then I spooned them onto a pot full of boneless, skinless chicken thighs and red onion wedges.
As everything was roasted, the smell of caramelized fruit and golden-edged chicken filled the kitchen, making me want to stay close enough to breathe it all in. I took the opportunity to mix in an ad hoc sauce made with thick Greek yogurt, cucumber slices, and more of that sweet solution of vinegar and bay leaf that I had used for the cherries. Spooned over the chicken, it was a refreshing, creamy counterpart to roasted thighs, tangy cherries and sprigs of sweet red onion.
My family ate it with a torn baguette to catch all the drippings, and we all agreed: it was a wonderful summer meal – even at the expense of a batch of cherry jam.
I was so enamored with this dish that I tried to make something similar after sour cherry season ended. I tried red and green grapes, then sweet cherries, then cherry tomatoes. All were good. But none matched the intense tart character of sour cherries. (Note that I didn’t try this dish with thawed frozen cherries. I didn’t have any.)
This year, as sour cherry season approached again, I dreaded having to choose between pie, cocktails, and my new favorite baking dish.
Luckily the market produced enough cherries for me to make them all.
Recipe: Chicken thighs with sour cherries and cucumber yogurt